MINNEAPOLIS, MN– This week, the Houston janitors’ picket lines over unfair labor practices spread to Minneapolis and 7 other cities across the U.S.
Early this week SEIU Local 1 janitors fanned out around the country to establish picket lines against their janitorial contractors in Minneapolis, Washington D.C., Seattle, San Ramon and Oakland in California, and Boston, followed on Thursday in Los Angeles and Denver.
While supporters from community groups and other unions joined the Local 1 members gathered in front of the downtown Minneapolis US Bancorp building, bankers on cell their cell phones stood watch, complaining that the group was disruptive to the after-work crowd leaving the building. But participants said their voice is on behalf of the 99%, not the 1% a few suited bankers were representing.
Jolyn Vance, member of SEIU Local 1, the union of the janitors on the ULP strike in Texas. “I t is crazy that companies as rich as the ones in Texas would fight to keep my brothers and sisters who are making $9000 per year from getting a decent raise. The companies offered only 50 cents over 5 years, and then tried to intimidate workers! It is great to see the support from other workers here in Minneapolis, and around the country. We will keep strengthening this strike until companies like ABM do the right thing.”
The Houston strike has garnered 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 janitor’s first amendment rights, while Jealous lifted the plight of the janitors’ during his keynote address at the NAACP Convention in Houston on Monday.
“What’s happening 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 Houston janitors’ union contract expired on May 31st. 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. Janitorial 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 a city-wide strike on July 11th in response to unfair treatment.
Just like here in Minneapolis, Houston janitors clean the offices of some of the richest corporations in the world yet they struggle to make ends meet. In Houston that includes 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.