For a month and counting, Houston janitors have been protesting and holding one-day strikes in attempts to attract attention to their cause: producing change in treatment, as well as improvement of wages and benefits. Tuesday night, July 10, hundreds of janitors around the city walked off the job and have committed that they will not return until they are granted a fair contract. This is the first citywide janitor strike since 2006, and is expected to escalate– even possibly spreading to other cities.
Most Houston janitors earn less than $9,000 annually. This number is less than half the poverty level in a city that currently has a booming economy. Chicago janitors are paid more than three times that salary and Detroit janitors are paid $2 more per hour than Houston janitors. Yet…both Chicago and Detroit real estate rental rates are lower than those of Houston. So– Houston janitors make less money but have to spend more money on housing– money that they don’t even have to begin with. Forbes Magazine ranked our beloved city as Number 20 in the list of cities that are the best for businesses and careers, and also ranked Houston Number 8 in job growth. These affected janitors are the people who clean the offices of some of the largest and richest corporations in the world– such as Chevron, JP Morgan Chase, and Shell Oil– which are making record profits right now. I’d like to think these corporations could share the love with the people that are pertinent to their existence. Sadly, many janitors citywide have reported general mistreatment by their employers, workplace intimidation, harassment, and even the potential stripping of healthcare benefits.
Thus far there have been three cleaning contractors– Pritchard, Eurest, and Aztec– that have stopped contributing to the health and welfare funds of their employees. GCA and ISS have stopped withholding worker contributions to the funds, which could potentially indicate that they also plan on not contributing to the funds. Not a good sign.
These cases of mistreatment have created a sense of panic among those affected. Yesterday morning the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 placed charges against each of these contractors for unfair labor practice.
However, these janitors are not alone in this fight for justice. Local and national support is in plenty, including, but not limited to: Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Texas Congressman Al Green and Texas Congressman Sheila Jackson Lee, Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Fiorenza, NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous, and activist/actor Danny Glover.
Last night striking workers gathered at 6pm to rally at 1100 Louisiana Street. They have asked for a raise from $8.35 per hour to $10 per hour, to be in full effect in over four years. Building owners and contractors have counteracted with a much lower offer– a 50-cent raise– to be phased in over four years. An offer like this only reiterates the lack of hope for these hard-working janitors to be treated justly. Despite news like this, these janitors are not ready to give up just yet.