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Houston Janitors Demand Equality

By Paul Hill and Alexander Massey-Tompkins

HOUSTON - On July 18, a majority (25 of 40) janitors working for ABM Janitorial Services initiated a strike against unfair labor practices, according to Service Employees International Union (SEIU) spokesperson Andrew McDonald.

The janitors are complaining about being illegally questioned about their union organizing activities. They also allege that the company is spying on their conversations with union officials. They filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board in Houston.

SEIU is attempting to organize 10,000 janitors in Houston. Houston janitors make an average of $5.25 an hour with no benefits, whereas janitors in other major cities working for the same companies make between $10 and $20 an hour and have family health benefits. The Houston janitors are mostly immigrant women working part time.

On July 16, a rally was held at St. Anne's Catholic Church in Houston to support the Justice for Janitors movement and over 300 people attended. More than 100 community supporters were identified. Government officials and community leaders spoke to the meeting.

Speaker Alana Hill of ACORN told the PWW that she was supporting Justice for Janitors because, "I know what it feels like to be looked at like a second class citizen…low wage workers do vital work in our community but we treat them as if they're invisible…they have a right to support their family…this is the greatest nation in the world and we still pay slave wages…it ought not be so!...honest wage for honest work…it is our right as human beings to be treated with dignity and respect and be able to provide the necessities for our families…" When asked about the discrepancy between Houston janitors' wages and those in other parts of the country, she responded, "The southern states are stuck in a time warp…wages don't keep up with the cost of living…if a company wants to have loyal workers, they ought to be loyal to the workers…"

Kris Banks attended the conference and told the PWW his reaction to the discrepancy between Houston janitors' wages and the rest of the country: "Texas is so hostile to labor and working people…any labor movement, I support…my grandfather was in IBEW and was working for 80 cents an hour in the 1960s with six kids…he joined the union and then was making a living wage…"

Congressperson Gene Green (D-Houston) declared to the meeting "I work everyday to make sure people have a fair wage…organizing is hard, ensuring your rights is hard, but it's worth it…these companies should be ashamed…you have to feed your family and pay for clothes for your children, that's why its so wrong they won't recognize your union…I will stand with you, whether its on the picket line, or at the bargaining table!"

Richard Shaw, Secretary Treasurer of the Harris Country AFL-CIO, addressed the meeting and stated "76 unions support you, including the Sheet Metal Workers and Texas State Employee's Union." He noted these unions are in solidarity with the Justice for Janitors movement. He led the meeting in rousing chants of "Si, se puede!"

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