The janitors, represented by Local 1 of the Service Employees International Union, will throw up picket lines in front of corporate offices in Minneapolis, Washington D.C., Seattle, San Ramon, Los Angeles and Oakland Calif., Boston, and Denver. The strikes are being called, the union says, to support the janitors in Houston.
There will also be support rallies in more than a dozen cities throughout the U.S. and Canada. SEIU represents some 150,000 janitors throughout the United States.
An interesting note on some shit that should be obvious: why do hospitals treat the people in charge of CLEANLINESS like complete and utter shit? Does that not seem fucking counterintuitive?
Institutions also employ infection-control specialists, who track infections and investigate their causes. Yet when the problem is bacteria on surfaces, eliminating them depends on the building-services crews. “This is the level in the hospital hierarchy where you have the least investment, the least status and the least respect,” says Jan Patterson, president of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America. Traditionally, medical centers regard janitors as disposable workers—hard to train because their first language may not be English and not worth training because they may not stay long in their jobs.
Many of these janitors are contracted by companies in Northern Virginia. Companies do this to intentionally avoid handling the Living Wage Law in Maryland. Consequently, these employees receive lower wages because no such law exists in Virginia. Many of these employees are based in Maryland and paying taxes in Maryland, why is their income coming from Virginia? It’s great to see that some strides are being made on behalf of Baltimore’s cleaners. But, how can anyone live on $11.40/hourly? Sadly, this only effects certain janitorial staff contracted by particular companies. There is a lot of work that still needs to be done.
In Houston, more than 3,200 janitors clean the offices of some of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world: JP Morgan Chase, Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Wells Fargo, KBR and Marathon Oil, to name a few. For their labor, they are paid an hourly wage of $8.35 and earn an average of $8,684 annually. Two janitors together would earn about $17,300 a year—still well below the poverty line of $22,314 for a family of four.
Yesterday, the contract between the janitors and the cleaning contractors expired. SEIU Local 1 spent the past month trying to reach an agreement to raise the janitors’ hourly wage to $10 over the next three years. But the contractors countered with an offer of a $0.50 pay raise phased in over five years and—according to SEIU spokesperson Paloma Martinez—said that they “wouldn’t budge.” The contractors claimed that the building owners and tenants—the aforementioned corporations—aren’t willing to pay anything close to a living wage.
In response the janitors voted to authorize their bargaining committee to call a strike. For workers already struggling on sub-poverty wages, this was no easy decision.
“The workers were really insulted by the offer,” said Martinez. “The contractors said they weren’t going to move and they blamed it on the building owners, but we all know the state of the real estate market here.”
With the city enjoying the fruits of the energy industry, Houston’s commercial real estate market is indeed the best performing market in the United States in terms of demand. It has the highest number of new corporate real estate projects in the nation, vacancy rates below the national average and rising rental rates.
Nevertheless, the city’s janitors are among the lowest paid in the nation, with workers in cities with far weaker real estate markets earning a significantly higher hourly wage: Cincinnati ($9.80), Cleveland ($10.30), Detroit ($10.97) and Chicago ($15.45) are a few examples.