International Delegation of Janitors Comes to Houston to Meet with Workers and Elected Officials

***For Immediate Release***

Contact: Paloma Martinez, 832.493.4839, martinezp@seiu1.org

 As wealth disparity and poverty in our city continue to rise…

International Delegation of Janitors Comes to Houston to Meet with Workers and Elected Officials

Houston, TX — Support is growing within the United States and Europe for janitors in Houston standing up to the wealthy real estate industry to fight for good jobs. On Thursday, June 21st, a delegation of janitors from Spain, the Netherlands, and Denmark came to Houston to investigate working conditions, free speech rights, and police aggression against American janitors.

The European janitors work for cleaning contractor ISS, the same company that employs many Houston janitors—though they pay Houston workers far less.

“We are shocked at the working conditions and low wages,” said Henrietta Olofsen, a representative from Union 3f in Denmark. “We are going back to Denmark, where ISS is based, to ask them to live up to their policy that says all ISS workers—no matter if they’re from China or Denmark or Houston—should be treated the same.”

The delegation also met with State Representative Armando Walle who pledged to join them in calling on cleaning contractors, building owners, and the city’s leaders to ensure the safety of workers engaging in protests.

“Poverty wage jobs are an embarrassment to our city,” said Representative Walle.  “In an era when Houston’s commercial real estate industry is thriving along with their business tenants, folks working at these properties should be able to make ends meet.  Unfortunately, that’s just not the reality for these hard working families. Despite doing everything right and meeting the increasingly exhausting work demands, the janitors continue to be trapped in a cycle of poverty.”

On average, janitors in Houston are paid annual wages that amounts to less than half the poverty level, despite the fact that they clean the offices of some of the world’s most profitable companies.  

“The janitors from the Netherlands asked us how we can retire on what we make,” said Alice McAfee, who has worked as a janitor in Houston for almost 30 years. “It was such a strange question. We don’t get to retire. I make about $9,000 a year, so you do the math. I will have to work until I can’t anymore.”

Houston has been named the nation’s “#1 Millionaire City” for annual growth in millionaires. Last year, the city’s 15 largest employers reaped more than $178 billion in profits in 2011 – a more than 50% increase over the previous year. Despite this, Texas is tied with Mississippi for the highest proportion of minimum wage jobs in the nation. In the wake of huge profit margins, working Houstonians’ wages have remained stagnant or fallen behind.

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