By James Thompson
HOUSTON - The Harris County AFL-CIO Seventh Justice Bus stopped at 10 worksites in the Houston area on May 13, 2008. The aim of the visits was to cite employers for their good or bad treatment of workers seeking contracts. About 30 labor activists were on the bus and enthusiastically supported their brothers and sisters struggling for fair wages and benefits. A human billboard was formed at each site with each worker holding a single letter to spell out "Justice Here" or "No Justice Here" as awards were given. The effect was dramatic.
First stop was to present W.W. Contractors a "Justice Here" award for the contract signed with Operating Engineers, Local 564 at the Mickey Leland Federal Building in downtown Houston. Next stop was a few blocks away at the Chevron Global Aviation where the Operating Engineers have successfully negotiated a first contract with P.M. Realty. Later in the day (10th stop), the Operating engineers gave Seafood Wholesalers, Ltd. a "No Justice Here" award where workers have been intimidated and harassed for trying to form a Union. Company representatives did not respond to demands for them to come out and receive their award. There was a Maserati dealer across the street and service department employees came out to express their solidarity and said they would like to form a union because of poor working conditions and wages and benefits there.
The United Steelworkers, Local 13-1, led the third stop which was at Center Point Energy in downtown Houston. A "Justice Here?" award was given since contract talks are pending and workers are seeking a fair contract. Steelworkers also led a rally later in the day (6th stop) at Shell Deer Park Chemical Plant & Refinery where a "Justice Here?" award was given. A company representative appeared to receive the award where contract talks are pending and workers want a fair contract to follow the contract negotiated successfully 4 years ago. About 30 USW members who were employees at the plant came out to join the rally. They expressed their appreciation to the Justice bus riders for their support.
The fourth stop was at the Federal Detention Center downtown, where American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1030, led demands for fair treatment for employees. Wrath was aimed at Warden Al Haynes who has numerous grievances against him for mistreatment of employees. Organizers pointed out that the wardens at the facility only stay for two years and then are shipped off somewhere else. This means they can make arbitrary decisions against workers and don't have to face the consequences. As a result, workers charge that the warden has several EEO complaints against him and "arbitrarily denies grievances…violates collective bargaining agreements…encourages managers to deny official time for EEO purposes…and encourages frivolous employee investigations." Participants demanded loudly and forcefully for the warden to come out to receive his "No Justice Here?" award, but he did not appear. Guards in front of the facility refused to receive the award, so it was left on the front steps.
The Justice bus proceeded to the fifth stop which was at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. A "No Justice Here" award was presented to a company representative from ARAMARK. ARAMARK workers are struggling for a fair contract as well as dignity and respect on the job. Unfair Labor Practice charges have been filed against ARAMARK and workers staged a one day strike on 5/8/08. City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones addressed the rally and threw her full support behind the workers. She had previously accompanied a delegation to demand that ARAMARK treat workers fairly.
Key Middle school, which has received a lot of attention due to its unhealthy physical environment, was the eighth stop. Houston Independent School District had planned to shut the school down and raze it. However, they unexpectedly moved up a press conference and scheduled it for the time of the Justice bus' arrival and reversed themselves by announcing they would fix the environmental problems at the school which serves low income families and reopen it. A "Justice Here?" award was presented.
The ninth stop was at A+ Maid Service where the Interfaith Worker Justice Center led a rally demanding that the company pay its workers. Workers told activists that they were paid for two days out of one week and then not paid at all for the second week. They alleged they are paid about 18% of the time. They received a "No Justice Here" award and an F- for their poor treatment of workers.
The effort was a great example of cross-union unity and solidarity, with a number of unions and organizations participating, including IBEW, Sheet Metal Workers, ACORN, UAW, SEIU, AFGE, USW (both Houston and Galveston), Houston Federation of Teachers, Operating Engineers, Houston Interfaith Worker's Center, AFSCME, and the Coalition of Working People and the Poor. There were also people from Chicago and Milwaukee, Wisconsin present to lend their support.
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