Tenants in downtown Washington, D.C. office buildings won’t be surprised to learn that office rent in D.C. is virtually the highest in the United States, second only to midtown Manhattan. Investors have called D.C.’s real estate market the most profitable in the world.
But most of the people who keep these buildings running – janitors, security officers, and parking workers – don’t benefit from the booming real estate market.
The 2,000 private security officers in D.C. – mostly African American women – face low wages starting around $8 an hour and don’t have access to affordable healthcare or paid sick days.
Yesterday, in recognition of the low-income mothers who comprise the target population for its Stepping Stones initiative, Washington Area Women’s Foundation hosted a brown bag lunch discussion about the condition of building services workers to raise awareness among fellow tenants at 1411 K Street.
The event was organized as part of the Building Benefits project – a local effort by office building tenants to support the janitors, security officers and parking workers in our own buildings. During the meeting, security officers spoke about the realities of the low pay, lack of benefits, and job insecurity that are part of their industry. They shared their stories about the difficulty of having wages vary from week to week depending upon building placement, lost wages due to time off for illness and the costs associated with the lack of affordable health insurance, among others.
One woman discussed her difficulty in being able to continue her studies without having a predictable schedule each week and the flexibility to request hours around her class schedule.
In addition, members of the Building Benefits network presented specific ways they are working to raise standards for building workers. Currently, members of the network are supporting two ongoing campaigns.
The first includes efforts by security officers to win a citywide contract for better wages and working conditions. This March, officers succeeded in pressuring employers to recognize their union, Service Employees International Union local 32BJ. Now, they are preparing to negotiate a union contract for private security officers across the city.
The second stream of focus is efforts to win legislation in the D.C. Council that would would ensure 10 paid sick days for most workers in the city to take care of their own illnesses, care for sick children or deal with domestic violence situations.
Earlier this month, the D.C. Paid Sick & Safe Days Act was introduced to the city council with the support of all 11 councilmembers, thanks to the work of the DC Employment Justice Center (A Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation) and a coalition of other groups supporting the legislation.
DC Jobs with Justice – a local coalition of labor unions, faith communities and community organizations that is part of the national Jobs with Justice campaign – first began organizing office building tenants during the summer of 2006 to support efforts by security officers to form a union. After joining with the Center for Law and Social Policy and the DC Employment Justice Center, the Building Benefits project was launched with the goal of creating a permanent network of tenants who would support efforts to raise standards for building workers.
Since then it has grown to include tenants from two dozen downtown office buildings!
Tenants can support service workers in a variety of ways. Some tenants have handed out stickers supporting officers’ campaign, others have collected petitions encouraging the city council to support sick days legislation, and others still have organized a delegation to their building owner’s office to communicate tenants’ expectations for worker rights in their building.
Do you work in an office downtown? Then get involved! We would love to help you host a brown bag lunch with tenants in your building, where tenants will learn more about these issues and decide on what actions to take to support workers in the building.
To get involved, please contact us to learn more:
DC Jobs with Justice: Contact Mackenzie Baris (202-974-8224)
Center for Law and Social Policy: Contact Jodie (202-906-8003)
DC Employment Justice Center: Contact Jessica Goshow (202-828-9675 x20)
Jack Mahoney is a Solidarity Intern at DC Jobs with Justice and a student at Georgetown University. He has worked on the Building Benefits project since the fall of 2006.