Houston Janitors win New Four-Year Agreement That Raises Wages and Safeguards Gains Made Since 2006

Houston Janitors win New Four-Year Agreement That Raises Wages and Safeguards Gains Made Since 2006

Janitors will meet to ratify tentative contract on Saturday

Houston, Texas— Houston area janitors reached a tentative agreement Wednesday with cleaning contractors that raises wages 12 percent over four years and beat back a key demand of the contractors that would have significantly weakened the union in Houston.

“Today we proved that when workers join together, we have strength. This is a huge victory for janitors and so many workers,” said Adriana Vasquez, a bargaining committee member and janitor who works for ISS at Chase Tower. “With this new contract, our families can live a little better.”

Cleaning contractors had been insisting on a provision that would have allowed them to underbid union standards in any building covered by the contract—a move that would have effectively reduced wages and benefits for thousands of janitors.  However, both parties agreed to a compromise that protects wages and benefit gains that janitors have won since 2006 and allows the contractors to bid competitively in smaller buildings and in few outlying submarkets. The changes will not adversely affect union janitors.

Houston area janitors had been on strike since July 10th. Janitors had been making only $8.35 an hour, and cleaning contractors had initially offered only a .50 cent raise over 5 years. According to the agreement janitors’ wages will increase 12 percent to $9.35 an hour over four years—double the contractors’ initial proposal. The agreement was reached with Houston’s largest cleaning contractors. Janitors are continuing to bargain with Pritchard.

“We made progress here in Houston and the janitors’ victory brings hope to security officers, airport workers and others trapped by poverty wages” said Tom Balanoff, President of Service Employees International Union Local 1.

“Our economy is broken and unless we do something to turn low wage jobs into good jobs, the middle class will be the great disappearing act of the 21st century.”

The strike came at a time when our country is in the midst of massive public protest over the increasing inequality between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of society.  And it’s no wonder: The U.S. economy has grown by more than 80% in the past 30 years, but a majority of those gains in wealth have gone to the richest 1% of Americans while income for 95% of American households has either stayed the same or fallen since 1970.

That inequality is clear here in Houston where residential segregation by income is the worst in the country. In Texas, more than half a million workers make the minimum wage or less tying Texas with Mississippi for the highest proportion of minimum wage jobs in the country.

The janitors’ struggle to lift themselves out of poverty garnered support from religious leaders, elected officials and community groups here and around the country.

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