Janitors arrested at protest in support of a living wage as civil rights and political leaders continue to voice their support

For Immediate Release: July 31st, 2012

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


Janitors arrested at protest in support of a living wage as civil rights and political leaders continue to voice their support

HOUSTON, TX—Seven people, including 5 janitors, were arrested today after they participated in an act of peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience at a protest in support of a living wage for Houston janitors. Civil rights and labor activists from all over the country are joining Houston area activists this week for several days of widespread protests—including peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience—to highlight the damaging impact that low wages have on our economy and our country and to support janitors who are entering their fourth week of an unfair labor practices strike.

The city’s janitors are paid just $9,000 annually, often clean 90+ toilets every night and work in some of the most exclusive real estate in the city.  So far the cleaning contractors they work for, such as New York based ABM, have rejected paying the janitors a higher wage, claiming that $9,000 a year is a good wage.

Janitors from across the country flew to Houston to participate in today’s protest and show solidarity with Houston janitors. Matilde Reyes, a 44 year-old janitor from Chicago, was one of those arrested tonight.

“Today I am proudly taking a stand, so that workers everywhere know there is strength when you unite together,” Reyes said in a statement. “We follow a long line of freedom fighters who have taken arrest, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Cesar Chavez—they did it for us, and now we do it for Houston janitors.  This can help the whole world, because this type of mistreatment of working people is happening everywhere—and standing together, we have the power to create good jobs and a better life for working people.”

Read the statements of the arrestees here.

A statement of support was issued by U.S. Representative Al Green (D-TX), U.S Representative Gene Green (D-TX), U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), the Rev. William Lawson, and other leaders. The statement reads, “Our country is engaged in a struggle over our most basic values—that hard work should be rewarded with fair pay… As during the 2006 Houston janitors’ strike, ‘Freedom Flyers’ from around the country are coming to Houston to promote workers’ rights, civil liberties, and the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. We applaud the bravery and courage of these janitors, who will be risking arrest to fight for a better future for all workers. It’s through struggles like these that we can bring fairness back to our economy and prosperity back to our country.” Read the full statement here.

The Houston commercial real estate market is the best performing market in the US in terms of demand. A robust energy sector has driven up demand in the real estate market and lowered vacancy rates below the national average.  However, despite the health of the commercial real estate industry, Houston office cleaners are some of the lowest paid in the nation—most are paid $8.35 an hour or less.  Out of town cleaning contractors like New York based ABM pay Janitors working in cities with less healthy markets and lower rental rates more.  For example, janitors working in Detroit where vacancy rates are 6.3 percent higher, and rental rates are more than five dollars lower janitors make $11.17 an hour.

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