On Eve of Bargaining, Houston Janitors Stage Protests throughout City

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 1, 2012

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

Supporters Mount Historic Wave of Civil Disobedience; Arrests Reach 32

More than 500 Janitors and Supporters To March through Galleria Houston during Evening Rush Hour

HOUSTON, TX— With bargaining set to resume August 2, 2012 between janitors who clean the city’s most prestigious corporate offices—including JP Morgan Chase, Exxon and Chevron — and cleaning contractors, hundreds of janitors and their supporters descended on downtown Houston staging protests and visibility actions throughout the day.  Ten people were arrested this morning for blocking traffic during morning rush hour and more protests are expected during the day. Read statements from the activists who were arrested here. Yesterday, seven people, including 5 janitors, were arrested after they participated in an act of peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience at a protest in support of a living wage for Houston janitors

Today, hundreds of janitors and human rights activists in 17 cities are protesting in front of office buildings cleaned by the same cleaning contractors that employ Houston janitors—who are now on their fourth week of an unfair labor practices strike.

Janitors’ actions have garnered national support and attention, with more than 32 janitors and supporters engaging in historic waves of civil disobedience in Houston over the last several weeks.    National and local elected officials and civil rights leaders issued a joint statement earlier this week in support of janitors’ and their supporters “struggle over our most basic values—that hard work should be rewarded with fair pay.”

This statement came on the heels of Houston Mayor Parker’s strong support of the janitors saying “I am calling on the contracting companies to go back to the negotiating table.  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.”

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 are entering their fourth week of an unfair labor practice strike, prompted by cleaning contractors’ like New York based Pritchard, New York based ABM, and Denmark based ISS retaliation against workers. Janitors voted to strike after cleaning contractors fired, threatened and intimidated workers as janitors started to speak up for fair wages and better conditions.

Despite high demand in Houston’s healthy commercial real estate industry, Houston’s office cleaners are some of the lowest paid in the nation—most are paid less than $9,000 a year.  Cleaning contractors pay janitors working in cities with weaker markets and lower rental rates, such as Chicago, Cincinnati, Orange County, and Cleveland significantly higher wages.  For example, in Detroit where vacancy rates are 6.3 percent higher, and rental rates are more than five dollars lower, janitors make over $11.17 an hour.

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