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Int’l Women’s Day: spotlight on low wages, sexual harassment

Two events will highlight the concerns of women workers on International Women’s Day:  a rally at the Chicago Board of Trade highlighting low wages for women janitors paid by the highly profitable and tax-favored CME Group; and a hearing in Joliet focused on retaliation against women warehouse workers complaining of sexual harassment, including a case where a complainant was herself arrested.

Janitors represented by SEIU Local 1 will rally at the Board of Trade on Thursday, March 8 at 3:30 p.m. and march from there to the Willis Tower. Contract negotiations are starting for 13,000 area janitors, including 4,000 at downtown office buildings, whose contract expires April 8.

With annual pay ranging from $24,000 to $31,000, area janitors are classified “very low income” under HUD’s standards, and earn $20,000 or more below the Economic Policy Institute’s estimate of the cost of living for a family of four, according to Nell McNamara of Local 1.

The union is casting the issue as one of income inequality, noting soaring salaries and bonuses for CEOs while Chicago has the third highest poverty rate and the highest racial income disparity of any major U.S. city.

Janitors are calling on wealthy corporations “to do their part,” said McNamara.  “When hard-working people have good jobs with benefits, we’ll begin to restore balance to our economy and vitality to our neighborhoods.”

In December the state passed an income tax break worth $85 million a year to CME after the corporation threatened to leave town.  In 2009, Willis Tower benefited when United Airlines got a $31 million TIF subsidy to move its corporate headquarters into the building.

Arrested for complaining

In Joliet, in response to an increasing number of complaints of sexual harassment by women workers at warehouses in the area, Warehouse Workers for Justice is holding a hearing on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Mt. Carmel Church, 205 E. Jackson.

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