Hundreds of striking janitors in Houston who walked off the job last week are being joined by hundreds more this week as picket lines extend to eight cities across the country.
The janitors – employed by contractors to clean office buildings for companies like Exxon Mobile, Shell Oil, and JP Morgan Chase – are striking against unfair labor practices. They are also demanding an end to poverty wages in a city recently named by Forbes as the number one city for millionaires.
SEIU, which represents the janitors, reported in a press release this morning,
Tomorrow, the Houston janitors’ unfair labor practices strike will spread to eight cities across the United States. Janitors, who are members of SEIU Local 1, will fan out across the country to establish picket lines against their janitorial contractors in Washington, Minneapolis, Seattle, Boston, San Ramon and Oakland. On Thursday, janitors in Los Angeles and Denver will also join the strike. Janitors in these cities have indicated that they will not cross the picket lines, thereby expanding the strike to key real estate in new cities.
The ULP strike that began last Tuesday is the first city-wide work stoppage by Houston janitors since 2006. SEIU explains how it started:
The janitors’ union contract expired on May 31, 2012. While in bargaining with their employers, janitors asked for a modest raise from $8.35 per hour to $10 per hour to be phased in over four years. However, building owners and contractors responded by offering a raise of just $.50 over five years – an almost certain promise that janitors will continue to live in poverty. When janitors refused to accept this offer, they were met with harassment and intimidation by their employers. This prompted workers to call for a city-wide strike on July 11 in response to unfair treatment.
In an effort to intimidate workers, three of the companies illegally imposed unilateral changes by ceasing contributions to health and welfare funds.
The strike is in its second week and includes more than 400 janitors at 18 different buildings in Houston, a city with glaring income inequality. While one in five workers in the city make less than $10 an hour, Houston leads the nation in annual growth for millionaires.
Josh Eidelson at In These Times writes:
According to the union, Houston’s 15 largest employers brought in over $178 billion in profit last year, while union janitors, mostly working part-time schedules, are paid below $9,000 annually.
Eidelson explains how SEIU is using sympathy pickets to win justice for janitors in Houston:
In some cities, SEIU janitors employed by some of the same companies have “conscience clauses” in their contracts, protecting their rise to honor picket lines by refusing work. That means that if a striking Houston worker traveled to such a city and began picketing the same company there, the workers inside could walk off the job, effectively spreading the strike throughout the country.
Teamsters – many of whom also enjoy conscience clauses in their contracts – know solidarity is our best weapon against corporate greed and attacks on workers. And given the stakes of the dispute in Houston, it can mean the difference between a hard loss and striking a heavy blow against the one percent:
“What’s happening here in Houston is a microcosm of what’s happening to our whole country,” said Elsa Caballero, State Director for SEIU Local 1 Texas. “The gap between the richest 1% and working families is growing every day. It’s going to take bold action to rebuild our country’s middle class.”