Janitors continue their long struggle for a living wage and a decent work environment


Janitors march in downtown Houston on 6/14/12


Janitors and their allies rally for a living wage in Houston on 6/14/12

By James Thompson

HOUSTON – On June 14, 2012 in downtown Houston at 4pm about 450 labor activists converged on Tranquility Park adjacent to City Hall in order to rally to support striking janitors represented by SEIU Local 1 in their struggle for a living wage and decent working conditions. The group was ethnically diverse and consisted of men and women united in their demands that workers be compensated fairly in one of the wealthiest cities in the country. Houston is, of course, the fourth largest city in the country, just a few thousand people behind Chicago in the most recent census count.

Many organizations were represented in the rally, including SEIU, HOPE, FFE, Harris County AFL-CIO, UAW, AFT, AFSCME, Houston Peace and Justice Center, Houston Peace Council, Houston Peace Action, Harris County Democratic Party, Harris County Green Party, Houston Communist Party, and others.

There were rousing speeches delivered by several leaders of the progressive movement in Houston to include: Congressperson Sheila Jackson Lee and Frances “Sissy” Farenthold.

Sadly, reports indicate that mounted HPD officers assaulted union supporters and arrested a woman who was rendering assistance to one of the people they assaulted.

The following is a collage of articles and statements from various organizations about the struggle of SEIU Local 1 which represents 3200 Houston Janitors in their struggle for a living wage.

Here is a video of the brutal treatment by the Houston Police Department of Janitors in their struggle for a living wage :


Press release below, story below that.


Police Horses Trample Janitors, One Arrested at Peaceful Protest Downtown

More than 450 Peaceful Protestors Gathered in the Skyline District to Call for End to Poverty-Wage Jobs

HOUSTON, TX — Earlier this afternoon, more than 450 people – representing a broad cross-section of Houston – gathered in the city’s Skyline District at a peaceful demonstration calling for the end of poverty-wage jobs in Houston. The protestors – many of whom clean downtown buildings and make just $9000 annually as janitors – were gathered outside of JP Morgan Chase when police horses trampled multiple protestors. Shortly after, one of the protestors, who was attempting to assist one of the janitors trampled by the police horse, was arrested.

“Today, in downtown Houston, hundreds of janitors were joined by allies from across the city in a simple, peaceful exercise of their First Amendment rights,” explained Tom Balanoff, President of SEIU Local 1, which represents 3200 Houston Janitors. “Every day across this country, thousands of workers face the brute force of corporations unwilling to pay fair wages and treat workers with dignity and respect. Right here in Houston, thousands of janitors who clean the offices of some of the country’s most profitable corporations are making poverty wages.”

The police horses trampled the protestors as they crossed the street to rally in front of JP Morgan Chase’s Houston office. Although JP Morgan reported profits of close to $19 billion in 2011 – and still has not repaid the $100 million in bailout funds that it took – the janitors cleaning the Houston office make just $9000 annually.

“And these hard-working janitors have made a choice to stand up and say no more. But the actions by members of the Houston Police Department present at today’s protest are nothing short of unacceptable,” continued Balanoff. “As a country, we are called to protect the rights of all people and to honor the right of hard-working men and women to protest when necessary.”


Woman arrested at janitors’ protest

Police arrested a woman in downtown Houston Thursday afternoon after she went to the aid of a protesting union janitor knocked down by a police horse during a downtown demonstration for higher wages, a union official said.

Leslie Kamstra, communications director for the Service Employees International Union, said that janitor Hernan Trujillo was among 450 demonstrators, and at some point encountered the police horse and mounted officer. When Trujillo fell, police arrested a woman who went to help him.

A police spokesman was not available to confirm the arrest, or provide details of the incident or size of the crowd.

The SEIU represents about 3,200 Houston janitors who work for seven companies that contract to clean large office buildings. The union’s contract with the cleaning companies expired last month.

Trujillo was among five union members or officials who had presented their case for a new contract to the Houston Chronicle editorial board earlier in the afternoon.

The janitors, who make $8.35 an hour, are seeking a contract that will bring that to $10 an hour in three years.. Union officials say the companies have proposed a contract that would raise hourly pay to $8.85 by 2016.

Company representatives have said that offer reflects local market conditions, and noted that the most recent contract provided workers health benefits and paid time off.

–Jed Ocot.

From Ed Sills, Texas AFL-CIO

Houston Chronicle columnist Patricia Kilday Hart posted a fine column on the plight of the Houston janitors, some of whom have been inexcusably locked out after asserting their workplace rights:

Each work day in Houston, some 3,200 janitors represented by the Service Employees International Union polish, vacuum, dust, scrub, mop and haul trash from our shiny urban skyline. They’re invisible to us, mostly arriving after we leave work. We give little thought to our vacuumed offices, pristine waste bins or the Caribbean-colored water in our toilets each morning. Without them, the glistening economic machine that is the Houston would become, well, a mess.

Last year, Forbes Magazine ranked Houston as the leading city in the country for “minting new millionaires,” noting that Houstonians on that privileged rung of the economic ladder grew by 9.6 percent in 2010, and by 29 percent the previous year. Some 96,000 millionaires call Houston home.

Falling off the ladder

There’s been significant growth at the other end of the spectrum, too. Recent census statistics showed that an estimated 825,000 Houstonians live in poverty, including one in four children. That’s raised our city’s Medicaid rolls, which have swelled in recent years.
Union representatives say the janitorial service companies blame the owners of Houston’s office buildings for not being willing to pay more for their services. Compared to other metropolitan commercial real estate markets, however, Houston is robust, with low vacancy rates, high rentals and a new construction boom.

Read more: http://www.chron.com/default/article/Begging-for-crumbs-yields-employer-retaliation-3635772.php

Statement from the Texas Democratic Party on the plight of the janitors in Houston

The Texas Democratic Party will not stand idle while our fellow Americans of the Service Employee International Union are shamed into working for wages at half the poverty level. In this country, a hard day’s work should mean a fair wage, yet Houston janitors are being to asked to work for sub-poverty earnings.

Houston janitors of the SEIU went on strike earlier this month. These working men and women clean the offices of some of the largest corporations in America yet are paid less than $9,000 a year. Political and religious leaders are standing on the side of the janitors in their quest for a rightful piece of the American dream. The Texas Democratic Party joins them in supporting the Houston SEIU janitors who are striking for a living wage.

“If corporations want to be considered people, then they need to accept the belief that we are our brother’s keepers,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, the newly elected chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. “Hard working people in America should not be shamed. Honest work should receive honest pay, but Republicans want to repeal the minimum wage to make people work for $2 an hour. Then Republicans want to whine about paying for heath care for children of American parents who have jobs. It is shameful.”

“Grotesquely overpaid CEOs and upper management expect the men and women who work hard and play by the rules to be forced to beg for public assistance just to support themselves, much less a family. That is a disgrace not only to the America we love, but also to God,” Hinojosa stressed. “These striking workers are seeking a living wage for their work in cleaning the offices of Texas millionaires and one percenters, who not only refuse to pay a decent wage for honest work but are also enlisting Republican support to protect them from paying their fair share of taxes.”

“Democrats, along with labor unions, have been cleaning up corporate messes, both literally and figuratively, for far too long. Corporations are attempting to maximize profits at the expense of the taxpayers who must provide medical care and food assistance for workers’ families, even though the breadwinners are working full time. That is not the America we love,” Hinojosa continued, “and the workers and taxpayers in this country should be enraged about it.”

Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa and The Texas Democratic Party calls upon Texas Democrats and all Texans who support the right to a living wage to make a meaningful stand by helping on the picket line, signing the petition at http://1.seiu.org/page/s/houston-needs-a-raise.

18 June 2012

The Harris County Democratic Party supports the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the nearly 3500 janitorial workers it represents in the Houston, and greater Houston area in their fight for fair wages. Most janitorial workers earn just $9000 annually.

Texas SEIU State Director, Elsa Caballero said, “It’s a constant fight with the companies to get a pay increase. Workers are not asking to be rich. They are simply looking to buy food and pay their rent.”

Harris County Democratic Party joins in the call for fair wages for all hardworking Texans, whether they spend their days in the corner office or their evenings laboring to clean it.

Lane Lewis
County Chair
Harris County Democratic Party


Janitors fight for their rights in downtown Houston 6/14/12

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