Houston—Days after their contract expired, Houston janitors have called a strike. Workers report that they have been harassed and threatened by managers after standing up for the wages they need to support their families.
In response to janitors’ efforts to improve working conditions, employers have engaged in threats and other conduct prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act. Janitors from all nine buildings at Greenway Plaza announced tonight that they are striking to protest this conduct. Janitors say any building in Houston could be next.
“This was a very hard decision for us to make, but we are doing what we have to do,” says Maria Lopez, a janitor at Greenway Plaza and a mother. “We are standing up for a wage that will allow us to support our families. And in response we are being punished and harassed. So we decided together that we have to stand up for our families.”
As Houston’s poverty and hunger rate rise, janitors are calling attention to the income inequality that’s contributing to the deterioration of our communities. Houston janitors clean the offices of some of the richest corporations in the world, including profitable energy corporations Chevron, Exxon Mobile, Shell Oil, Penzoil, Centerpoint Energy and Reliant. Despite record profits and ballooning CEO pay, janitors who clean Houston’s office buildings are paid less than $9,000 a year—less than half the poverty level. 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.
In recent weeks, the community has rallied around the janitors. Faith leaders have held special worship services and written op-eds for newspapers; community organizations have held rallies and protests; and elected officials have publicly urged wealthy Houston building owners to take action.
“Once more we ask contractors to return to the bargaining table in good faith,” says Deacon Sam Dunning, Director of the Office of Justice and Peace of the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston Houston. “What the janitors are asking for is, in our judgment, modest and reasonable and a contract agreement would go great lengths to promote justice for janitors.”