An historic win of janitors in Houston

Posted in Good Stuff, Labor, Take Action at 2:45 pm by wcnews

It appears the weeks long strike for janitors in Houston will be ending in victory, Janitors’ labor deal seen as ‘reasonable’.

A tentative agreement that would give Houston janitors a cumulative 12 percent pay raise over the next four years is a “realistic” outcome amid uncertain economic times, labor and legal experts said Thursday.

“We’ve been fortunate here to have a better economy than other parts of country, but it seems to be a deal that reflects the economic realities of the time and that the economic future remains murky,” said A. Kevin Troutman, an employment lawyer at Fisher & Phillips who represents management clients.

On Saturday, the janitors are expected to vote to ratify the tentative deal made with six of the city’s largest cleaning companies this week. The current top wage for most of the 3,200 janitors is $8.35 an hour. The deal would give the workers a 25-cent-per-hour raise each year for the next four years.

The first-year raise would go into effect Jan. 1, for an initial 2.9 percent annual increase.


A spokeswoman for SEIU Local 1, which represents the 3,200 janitors who clean large office buildings in Houston, said the union’s bargaining team and members are excited about the agreement.

“We’ve begun to take steps in the right direction to bring people to a more stable economic situation for themselves and their families,” said Elsa Caballero, state director for Texas for the union’s Local 1.

Cindy Casares at the Texas Observer explains Why The Houston Janitor Strike Was Historic.

The janitor strike in Houston—which concluded last night with an agreement between janitors and cleaning companies—was historic and rare for many reasons. Texas is a right-to-work state. That means it’s illegal to require a person to join a union to keep or get a job, making the organization of a protest of this magnitude, which lasted more than four weeks, difficult. The right-to-work law also makes it illegal to fire someone for joining a union, but don’t be fooled, the law was adopted because of a long history of anti-union sentiment in this state. Reasons for anti-union leanings are as amorphous as a child’s fear of the dark, mostly driven by the conservative view that unions spawn unwanted social and political agents. But Texas’ anti-union sentiment also has its roots in the very concrete strategy of attracting outside industries to take advantage of cheap labor—a tactic that has worked well in this border state, with Mexico providing us a steady stream of exploitable employees. New York-based companies like ABM, Pritchard and JP Morgan Chase are all contractors of the Houston janitors that, until yesterday, refused to increase the paltry $9,000 a year average wage for janitors.


Regardless, SEIU is succeeding in Texas where few unions have, organizing a strike of this longevity that even managed to get mayoral support. Houston mayor Annise Parker urged contractors, in a press release on July 20, to return to the negotiating table remarking that, “Their 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.”

They began negotiating again on August 3, and late last night, the union announced a deal. As DePrang reports, the janitors will receive a one-dollar-an-hour raise in the next four years. That’s less than the $1.65-per-hour increase the union initially sought, but much higher than the paltry 50-cent raise the companies had offered. In that way, this historic strike proved a success.

Congratulations to the janitors!! Let’s hope their victory shows the rest of us what’s possible.

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