Contract Negotiations between Janitors and Cleaning Companies Break Down

***For Immediate Release***Contact: Paloma Martinez, (832) 493-4839, martinezp@seiu1.org

Faith and community leaders pledge to stand with janitors and fight for a living wage for Houston workers

Houston—On Thursday, May 17, Houston janitors and representatives from some of the country’s largest cleaning companies met for the final scheduled bargaining meeting to determine wages and working conditions for more than 3,200 Houston janitors. Houston’s commercial real estate market is currently the healthiest in the country, yet janitors who clean Houston’s office buildings are paid less than $9,000 a year—less than half the poverty level. Janitors and contractors reached impasse today, with both parties walking away from the table with no future bargaining dates set. The contract expires May 31st.

Despite its status as the country’s #1 millionaire city, Houston has one of the highest poverty rates in the US, with more than 825,000 Houstonians living in poverty. According to a Houston Food Bank report, more than 400,000 children in the Houston region were fed by a local food pantry last year, representing an 85% increase over four years ago.  Community members and clergy are already rallying to support the janitors.

“Once again Houston janitors find themselves at an impasse and we want them to know that our prayers and the full support of the Catholic Archdiocese is behind them,” says Deacon Sam Dunning, Director of the Office of Justice and Peace of the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston Houston. “We believe what Houston janitors are asking for is modest, measured, and reasonable and in light of the current strength of the real estate sector in Houston, we call on cleaning companies to provide jobs that can sustain strong families.”Janitors’ final offer on Thursday would have brought cleaners across the city up to at least $10 an hour—closer to the rising cost of living. Representatives for cleaning companies proposed no increase this year, $0.10 increases 2 years in a row, and $0.15 increases for 2 years after that; after 4 years, janitors would still be making less than half the poverty level. Contractors blame building owners for their refusal to guarantee greater wage increases.

Houston janitors clean the offices of some of the richest corporations in the world, including JP Morgan Chase, Marathon Oil, KBR, Shell Oil, Continental, Chevron, and Exxon Mobile. In spite of this, janitors are paid so little that they qualify for food stamps and welfare. Low wage jobs like these are contributing to the rising levels of poverty and food insecurity in Houston.

“We went on strike in 2006 because we were living in poverty with no hope for a better future.” says Veronica Taboada, a janitor at 811 Main St. and a member of the bargaining committee.  “And even though they can afford to pay us a living wage, these companies keep trying to keep us down. What do working people in this city have to do to be able to support their families?”

Janitors plan to hold a membership meeting on Saturday, May 26th to discuss and vote on next steps.

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