"A decade ago, Los Angeles janitors led a national labor renaissance, proving through fearless, in-your-face street actions that unions could indeed be relevant to an outsourced, low-wage, immigrant work force."
The Justice for Janitors campaign has come to symbolize the power of the poorest immigrants to take on the richest CEO's and win a fight that benefits the whole community. The campaign is the poignant story of janitors who were paid poverty wages, had no benefits and decided to take action. In Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and elsewhere, the lowest-paid janitors took to the streets and proved there is still power in protest politics, delivering victories for janitors and across the country.
The Past Twenty Years
Two decades ago in Los Angeles, CEO's had driven down the wages of janitors to a low of $4.50 an hour. As immigrants flowed into Southern California, powerful and wealthy building owners believed they had access to an unending pool of workers willing to work for nothing. But they got more than they bargained for when the janitors, many of whom had risked their lives to come to the United States, took on the industry to win higher wages and benefits - and won. Twenty years later, wages for janitors in Los Angeles are now over $12 an hour.
The Justice for Janitors campaign was at the forefront of a larger effort to bring good jobs back to Los Angeles. Mostly Latino janitors and African American security officers worked together to launch "Stand for Security," a Justice for Janitors-like campaign to raise wages and standards for security guards. Both campaigns did more than just raise wages for workers - higher wages also meant that millions of dollars of additional revenue flowed into small businesses and the community.
United, We Rise Together
Today, the Justice for Janitors campaign has also come to symbolize the inextricable link between the fight for worker's rights and the fight for immigration reform. Under today's broken system, an underground economy of undocumented workers who lack basic rights pushes down wages and working conditions for all workers. Men, women and children are being treated unjustly, inhumanely and without the basic dignity and worth that all people are entitled. Until we fix our broken immigration system and level the playing field for workers, we cannot restore fairness for workers.
Despite the myths, a path to legalization for 11 million undocumented immigrants would provide a $1.5 trillion boost to the American economy over 10 years. It would also boost wages for both native-born and newly legalized immigrant workers. And it would increase annual tax revenue by $4.5-$5.4 billion over three years--that's $188,227 every hour.
Honoring the Legacy of Justice for Janitors
Each year on June 15th, SEIU members and activists around the globe honor the legacy of the Justice for Janitors campaign with events across the country, calling for comprehensive immigration reform and a fair, just voice on the job for all workers. At a time when worker productivity is up and wages are down, when immigrant rights are under attack and when our economy continues to benefit a lucky few at the expense of the majority, SEIU members are carrying on the fight for justice and opportunity for the working men and women who sustain our economy.
Over the last two decades, the successes of the Justice for Janitors campaign serve as the most powerful reminder that united we rise together; that united we can recreate the American dream for workers. United we can raise wages and improve working conditions. United we can pass comprehensive immigration reform. And united, we can deliver justice.
Learn more about our union's history at http://www.seiu.org/anniversary.