Victory for Houston Janitors!
August 14, 2012 9:23 am
Houston janitors and contracting companies hashed out a new contract Saturday, finally bringing a four week strike to a close. The strike began as union demands for a living wage were met by a stingy counteroffer from janitorial contractors — the SEIU was asking for a raise of $1.65 to $10 an hour; the union countered with an offer of a $.50 raise over five years. On Saturday, the janitors voted unanimously to ratify a contract that would give janitors a one dollar raise, to $9.35/hourly, over the next four years.
The four-week strike was led by workers who were paid just $8.35 — or around $9,000 — per year. Janitor Alice McAfee received a standing ovation and an impromptu donation when speaking about the plight of Houston janitors at this year’s NAACP convention, and striking workers were arrested for civil disobedience even as their cause sparked sympathy strikes in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York City, Portland, San Diego, San Ramon, Seattle, St. Louis, Toronto, and Washington, D.C.
As the strike dragged on, Houston’s Mayor Anise Parker urged contractors to return to negotiations: “[The janitorial contractors'] unwillingness to talk has left the union with no other choice but civil disobedience. That is not good for the City of Houston or our economy and it is not how we do business in Houston. We work hard, we work together and we treat each other fairly. The union has made good-faith offers. Now it’s time for the janitorial contractors to sit back down at the table to work out an agreement that is fair and just.”
SEIU spokeswoman Paloma Martinez referred to the approval of the new contract as “a huge victory.” SEIU-represented janitors across the country can now celebrate along with the Houston janitors, just as they walked off their jobs in solidarity. The wage provisions in the new contract will not apply to janitors working in buildings smaller than 200,000 sq. feet. Vasquez said that those janitors could potentially migrate to larger buildings and enjoy the new benefits over time.
Regardless, the hard fought battle has ended in a victory for Houston’s precarious janitors. In today’s economic climate, that is reason to celebrate.
Image from here