HOUSTON, TX - 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.
SEIU represents more than 150,000 janitors in the United States.
In its second week, more than 400 Houston janitors in 18 buildings are on strike and their ranks are expected to grow next week. Already, the strike has garnered local and national support including activist/actor Danny Glover, Rep. Al Green (D-TX), Rep. Gene Green (D-TX), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Fiorenza and NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous. Earlier this month, Glover joined Green and Jackson Lee to announce the establishment of a task force to protect the janitors' first amendment rights, while Jealous lifted the plight of the janitors during his keynote address at the NAACP Convention in Houston last week.
"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."
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.
Houston janitors clean the offices of some of the richest corporations in the world, including profitable corporations like Chevron, Hines, Brookfield, Shell Oil, and JP Morgan. Despite record profits and inflated CEO pay, janitors who clean Houston's office buildings are paid just $9,000 a year.
The Houston commercial real estate market is the best performing market in the US in terms of demand. Average commercial rental rates in Houston are higher than rates in Chicago, for example, where janitors are paid more than 3 times as much annually as Houston janitors.