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Labor Unions: Drumming Up Janitor Support in Cleveland

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Cleveland is about to experience a protest — Pittsburgh-style.

Activists from Garfield's Thomas Merton Center have for months been holding weekly demonstrations in front of Sky Bank branches, often the Centre City Tower branch Downtown, including an all-day protest on April 15. On April 20, more than two dozen protesters will take their signs, plastic buckets and even a few Radical Cheerleaders to Sky's annual shareholders meeting at the Ohio company's headquarters.

"We're going to try to get inside — I'm not sure how that's going to work," says organizer De'Anna Caligiuri.

The protesters are targeting Sky over the firing of nine Centre City janitors in December 2003, shortly after a new contract had awarded them higher salaries and affordable health benefits. In January 2004, Sky gave the building's janitorial contractor, PF Enterprise, new mortgages on two buildings in Beaver County, from which the business is run. Sky also holds the mortgage on Centre City.

The protesters believe Sky's financial dealings with PF Enterprise helped the company afford to service the 26-floor building — and that Sky has influence over the owners' future moves.

 The Merton protesters plan their trip "basically as a shaming tactic," says Caligiuri, "so that shareholders can see Vince Locher, who is the regional president of Sky Bank, isn't getting anything done."

Sky Bank spokesperson Tim Dirrim says that Locher has tried to bring building owners and Merton protesters together "several times, [has] tried to mediate." Of the protesters, Dirrim says, "While we appreciate what they're doing ... we are just tenants," with no more power to affect the situation than the building's other occupants (which includes City Paper and Steel City Media). He also cites the bank's use of union labor when completing the renovations for its Centre City space, and says the bank isn't certain what protesters expect it to do.

Does Sky Bank anticipate any impact from the interstate protest? "Not any more so than what we've already gotten so far," says Dirrim. "Obviously, when we have folks protesting in front of our offices, we have clients asking questions."


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