06.19.12

Texas is a cheap labor state, and it shows

Posted in Around The State, Commentary, Inequality, jobs, Labor at 11:41 am by wcnews

There is a janitor strike going on in Houston.

Houston janitors will strike for the third day in a row. Already this week, janitors have gone on strike against one employer at Greenway Plaza buildings, another at 363 North Belt and tonight the strike will expand to two buildings against the employers charged with cleaning at Four Oaks Place, Wells Fargo Tower and 1330 Post Oak. These contractors have responded to employees’ efforts by interfering with their rights to engage in union activity protected by federal law.

Despite cleaning the offices of some of the richest corporations in the world, including JP Morgan Chase, Chevron, and ExxonMobil, janitors in Houston are paid as little as $9,000 a year, and many work two to three jobs just to survive. A janitor would have to work more than 2,000 years in order to earn what the Exxon and Chevron CEOs make in just one year, and 2,500 years to earn just what JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon took home last year.

“I am paid so little that I have to work two jobs just to make sure my family has what they need. I’m only able to see my two kids about an hour a day,” says Cirilo Solo, a janitor who works for Pritchard. “We spoke up for a better life and now they’re violating our rights.”

This is the second time janitors in Houston have gone on strike—this time to protest unlawful conduct. In 2006, janitors in Houston went on strike and touched off a flurry of activity including multiple days of civil disobedience, marches and rallies that propelled the plight of Houston’s low wage workers into the national spotlight.

Since 2006, the growing gap between the 1% and the 99% has become a pressing political issue as the number of low wage jobs increases, the middle class shrinks and corporations refuse to pay their share of taxes, create good jobs, and reward the hard work of their employees.

The problem is particularly poignant in Houston. Named the nation’s “No. 1 Millionaire City” for annual growth in millionaires; 1 in 5 people working in Houston make less than $10 an hour, and Texas is tied with Mississippi for the highest proportion of minimum wage jobs in the nation.

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa recently released a statement in support of the janitors (via jobsanger).

“If corporations want to be considered people, then they need to accept the belief that we are our brother’s keepers,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, the newly elected chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. “Hard working people in America should not be shamed. Honest work should receive honest pay, but Republicans want to repeal the minimum wage to make people work for $2 an hour. Then Republicans want to whine about paying for heath care for children of American parents who have jobs. It is shameful.”

“Grotesquely overpaid CEOs and upper management expect the men and women who work hard and play by the rules to be forced to beg for public assistance just to support themselves, much less a family. That is a disgrace not only to the America we love, but also to God,” Hinojosa stressed. “These striking workers are seeking a living wage for their work in cleaning the offices of Texas millionaires and one percenters, who not only refuse to pay a decent wage for honest work but are also enlisting Republican support to protect them from paying their fair share of taxes.”

“Democrats, along with labor unions, have been cleaning up corporate messes, both literally and figuratively, for far too long. Corporations are attempting to maximize profits at the expense of the taxpayers who must provide medical care and food assistance for workers’ families, even though the breadwinners are working full time. That is not the America we love,” Hinojosa continued, “and the workers and taxpayers in this country should be enraged about it.”

Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa and The Texas Democratic Party calls upon Texas Democrats and all Texans who support the right to a living wage to make a meaningful stand by helping on the picket line, signing the petition at http://1.seiu.org/page/s/houston-needs-a-raise.

I completely agree with what jobsanger writes:

I may have misjudged the new chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. I had thought he would continue the same old moderate to conservative policies of the last leadership. In the past, the state party leadership avoided any issue that might seem progressive and cost them conservative votes (votes they weren’t going to get anyway). A good example of that would be the union janitor strike in Houston (where the janitors are trying to get a livable wage).

But the new party chairman, Gilberto Hinojosa, has come down squarely on the side of the striking janitors, and he has done so publicly. This is a progressive stand, and one that I wholeheartedly support. I hope this is indicative of future actions Mr. Hinojosa will take. If so, the Texas Democratic Party might once again give Texas voters a real choice (instead of a parade of Republican-lite conservatives that have marked candidates in the recent past).

Texas taxpayer money is regularly given away to corporations that bring low paying jobs to the state of Texas. As Paul Krugman pointed out last year, The Texas Unmiracle.  Texas is a cheap labor state, and corporations love that. It increases their profits, which they’re able to hoard because of the cheap taxes for corporations in Texas.

What Texas shows is that a state offering cheap labor and, less important, weak regulation can attract jobs from other states. I believe that the appropriate response to this insight is “Well, duh.” The point is that arguing from this experience that depressing wages and dismantling regulation in America as a whole would create more jobs — which is, whatever Mr. Perry may say, what Perrynomics amounts to in practice — involves a fallacy of composition: every state can’t lure jobs away from every other state.

And the cheap labor lure is just too strong as this editorial points out, A ‘Texas Miracle’ on less than a living wage.

Thankfully, the local debate over whether to grant Maruchan Inc. of Japan millions of dollars to pay people very little money to make noodles has transcended the mere question of how many workers it would employ.

And it’s heartening — in a depressing sort of way, of course — that some of us are actually worried.

We are worried because the people making the noodles would earn minimum wage: $7.25 an hour, less than a living wage.

At the risk of dampening anyone’s good cheer, here are a few more reasons for us to be worried.

Texas already ranks first in the nation for jobs at or below the minimum wage.

(Go Texas! We’re No. 1!)

In fact, 37 percent of all jobs added in Texas in 2010 paid minimum wage or less. Overall, about a third of all jobs in Texas fail to support a family of four.

Also, the gap between the rich and the poor in Texas is greater than the gap in 40 other states, and it’s increasing. Perhaps this is because Texas workers are more productive than the average American worker, yet they’re also less well-paid.

What are the consequences of a low-wage economy?

Here’s one: Texans carry more credit card debt, ranking among the highest in the nation in 2009 and 2010.

The American city saddled with the highest average credit card debt in 2010?

It was San Antonio, at $5,177

To be fair, Bexar County commissioners preparing to shell out $5.8 million in incentives to Maruchan Inc. are not purporting to lead a pep rally.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Paul Elizondo conceded the deal amounts to a “dilemma,” although he said, “A job is a job. We need to get as many of them as we can.”

And here’s where the American Dream — or the “Texas Miracle” — collides with reality.

“Everybody needs to work, particularly in Texas because the social safety net is so thin,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “And one of the reasons it’s so thin is so when jobs like this become available, there’s a lot of competition for them because Texans have no choice but to work, and to work at whatever job’s available.”

In other words: Low taxes not only create jobs, but also result in low services and low wages.

But low wages, low taxes, (on the wealthy that is), and low services also keeps poor, working, and middle class Texans fighting amongst themselves for an ever-shrinking piece of the pie. Which is an old trick.

Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.
- “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Further Reading:
Wage theft.
Janitor Who Cleans JP Morgan Chase Offices to Confront Dimon at House Hearing.
Multi-national company eyes possible expansion into SA.

1 Comment »

  1. Eye on Williamson » TPA Blog Round Up (June 25, 2012) said,

    June 25, 2012 at 10:30 am

    [...] WCNews at Eye on Williamson posts about striking janitors in Houston and tax payer give-aways to corporations, Texas is a cheap labor state, and it shows. [...]

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