HOUSTON- In an act of civil disobedience that harkens back to the civil rights movement, 15 activists risked arrest today to protest their employers' misconduct, adding to the growing divide between the 1% and the rest of us. According to a Fox news poll in Houston released last night, 63 percent of Houstonians believe janitors should be paid more for their work.
"The struggle for economic justice led by janitors in Houston is deplorable," said Johnny N. Mata, of the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice and one of those arrested. "Especially when we have to engage in civil disobedience just to reach the conscience of the corporate executives."
Last night, janitors at more buildings went on an unfair labor practice strike bringing the total number of striking janitors to more than 475 in 36 buildings. Janitors are on strike against national cleaning contractors such as ABM, ISS, and GCA.
"The janitors' struggle is an example of what's wrong with our economy and a road map in miniature of what we need to change. Unless we fight back, and fight hard, the middle class will be the great disappearing act of the 21st century," said Elsa Caballero, state director for Service Employees International Union Local 1 and one of those arrested. "We've faced worse crises in this country and overcame them, but we can't rebuild the middle class unless the business elite do their part to raise standards for low-wage workers."
Those arrested have come from all over the country to support the janitors here, and are working side by side with the striking janitors and Houston-area activists to help the janitors win a fair settlement that raises standards and provides janitors with a toe-hold in the middle class.
"I'm a proud Houstonian; born and raised in this city. This fight is an example of a tale of two cities and there is a clear line between the haves and have-nots, " said Resha Thomas, leader with the Texas Organizing project and one of those arrested. "I stand with janitors because they will raise the floor for all working families without tearing down the ceiling."
Throughout our history as a nation, people of good will have courageously and nonviolently engaged in protest and civil disobedience to stand up for civil liberties--including the Boston Tea Party, Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad, and the fight for women to gain the right to vote.
America is in crisis. There aren't enough good-paying jobs. And while the middle class is disappearing, a small percentage of the population is getting rich beyond belief--fueling a gap in income equality that is the worst it's been since the roaring 20s. The U.S. economy has grown by more than 80 percent in the past 30 years, but a majority of those gains in wealth have gone to the richest 1% of Americans while income for 95 percent of American households has either stayed the same or fallen since 1970.
In Houston, one in five people earn less than $10 an hour, and Texas is tied with Mississippi for the highest proportion of hourlyworkers earning at or below the federal minimum wage. Janitors in Houston are paid as little as $9,000 a year, and many have to work two or three jobs just to survive. Meanwhile, the Houston commercial real estate market is the best performing market in the United States in terms of demand. Average commercial rental rates in Houston are higher than rates in Chicago where janitors are paid more than three times as much as Houston janitors.