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$11 For Cleaning Skyscrapers? Window Washers Fight For Higher Wages

The strike by window washers comes on the heels of a new study that shows a higher minimum wage had no negative impact on Chicago businesses.

A window washer works in Chicago. [Nicole Yeary/Flickr]
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DOWNTOWN — The city’s window washers can get paid as little as $11 per hour while scaling skyscrapers — and they’re looking to change that with a strike.

SEIU Local 1 window washers will strike and lead a march Monday in the Loop. Negotiations between the union’s workers and their employers broke down and their contract expired Saturday, leading to the strike.

In a statement, the union said workers can get paid as little as $11 and some are unable to afford healthcare from their employers and must turn to public assistance. Chicago’s minimum wage was raised to $12 as of Sunday.

The workers are “struggling to get by on low wages and a healthcare policy that forces many to rely on public assistance,” according to a news release from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Corporate Cleaning Services, which employs window washers, said the minimum amount it pays to window washers for seasonal work is $20.50 per hour.

“We are proud of our investment in our workers, whether through the 16 percent raise we’ve given them since 2015 or by employing the only full-time safety director at a Chicago window-washing company,” according to Corporate Cleaning Services. “We will continue our commitment to investing in our workers and to bargaining in good faith.”

The strike and march started at 10 a.m. Monday at Wacker and Wabash.

The strike comes on the heels of a new study showing Chicago’s rising minimum wage has helped workers without hurting new businesses.

Chicago’s minimum wage increased to $12 as of Sunday and is set to rise to $13 by 2019. A study by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute found the minimum wage hike produced higher incomes for at least 330,000 low-wage workers, while having no negative impact on the growth of new businesses or overall employment in the city.

The study compared data from Chicago gathered from 2010 to 2016 with data from suburbs Indiana and Wisconsin, where the hourly minimum wage is between $7.25 and $8.25. During the period covered by the study, job growth in the Chicago metro area surpassed the rest of Illinois, Indiana or Wisconsin.

“Chicago’s minimum wage increase is largely working as intended, and has directly benefited more than a quarter of the city’s workforce,” said study co-author and Illinois Economic Policy Institute Policy Director Frank Manzo IV.

Illinois Retail Merchants Association CEO Rob Karr said Chicago’s economy has been buoyed by a tourism boom Downtown — and a robust recovery from the Great Recession, which may have been strong enough to counteract any drag from the wage hike.

There is a push by some aldermen to boost the city’s minimum wage to $15 by July 2019.