Houston, We Have a Problem
July 13, 2012 11:15 am
Mitt Romney was met with a chorus of resounding boos at this year’s NAACP National Convention when the he stated that he would repeal Obamacare if elected president. Janitor Alice McAfee encountered a vastly different response when she spoke to delegates there on the plight of janitors in Houston, TX — a standing ovation and an impromptu donation of $3,200 .
Houston janitors labor in the offices of some of the world’s richest corporations, including Chevron, Hines, Shell Oil, and JP Morgan — yet are paid an average of $8.35 an hour, or $8,464 a year. The janitors are pushing building owners for a living wage increase to $10 an hour over the next three years, but have so far been met with a stingy counteroffer: a 50 cent raise over five years.
Following a month of protests and actions over the wage negotiations, Houston janitors have take decided to take things into their own hands. 250 janitors from nine Houston buildings walked out on Tuesday, citing harassment resulting from the wage negotiation and stating that they won’t return to work until building owners sit down for a real negotiation.
Addressing the NAACP convention, Ms. McAfee turned to the larger trend of precarity, saying, “[n]ow it’s low-wage workers who are treated like second-class citizens.” In an interview with the Nation, McAfee speaks about conditions on the job: “They used to give me five hours to do three floors. Now I have four hours for five floors…I take great pride in my work and I like to do it right, but now that they have cut the hours and increased the workload, there’s just no way for me to do it the way I want to. I’m doing eight to twelve hours work in four hours, and it’s just impossible.”
Ms. McAfee’s story reflects several trends we’ve seen recently — her first quote echoes guestworker advocates from this story, and the longer hours/no breaks narrative reflects current worker productivity trends, and conditions faced by housekeepers at hotels like Hyatt.
The greed of the Houston business owners is inexcusable, especially in light of the city’s well-performing commercial real estate market. From SEIU:
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 much annually as Houston janitors. Even in Detroit—where vacancy rates are higher and rental rates are lower than Houston—janitors are paid more than $2 an hour more than Houston janitors.
We’ll have more from Houston as the strike goes on.
Image from here