We can all be proud of the Houston area janitors, whose brave contract fight and month-long strike secured a tentative agreement that will raise wages 12 percent over four years and beat-back a contractor offer that would have prevented the union from maintaining standards for janitors.
That increase, to $9.35 an hour over four years, is double the original employer offer. The agreement was reached with employers including the Houston Area Contractors' Association. Pritchard is the last company holding out. We'll be back in talks on Monday, so stay tuned for news. We hold them to the expectation that they will support a deal that is good for Houston.
Back on July 10th, in the face of cleaning contractors who would not move from a .50 cent raise over five years, Houston janitors went out on an unfair labor practices strike. They knew that the fight would be tough but they stood strong and showed that when we stand together, we win.
As I sat at the bargaining table, I can tell you that it was that mobilization, and pressure from religious leaders, elected officials, community groups and individuals from Houston, the country and the world, that moved management to this compromise. It's a compromise that protects wages and benefit gains that janitors have won since 2006 and allows the contractors to bid competitively.
This win is only one step forward for the Houston janitors. It has rightly been called historic, but workers should not have to fight for pennies. I look forward to the day when wages for the janitors in Houston match those across the nation.
The strike came at a time when our country is in the midst of massive public protest over the increasing inequality between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of society. And it's no wonder: The U.S. economy has grown by more than 80% in the past 30 years, but a majority of those gains in wealth have gone to the richest 1% of Americans while an estimated 825,000 Houstonians live in poverty.1 In Texas, more than half a million workers make the minimum wage or less tying Texas with Mississippi for the highest proportion of minimum wage jobs in the country.2
The concerted action by Houston janitors is an example to us all. We can rebuild our economy by rebuilding the middle class. We can rebuild an America where hard work is rewarded and people pull together to make something better.
1. Kever, Jeannie. 3 November 2011. "Number of residents in poor Houston neighborhood doubles." Houston Chronicle. http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/High-poverty-neighborhoods-spread-out-from-2249405.php#photo-1722317
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010. http://www.bls.gov/ro6/fax/minwage_tx.htm