Background: HOUSTON JANITORS are carrying out a series of rolling strikes in their fight for a living wage.
After contract negotiations broke down in late May, 3,000 workers, members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1, voted unanimously June 5 to authorize a strike.
The average wage for a janitor in Houston is $8.35 an hour, much less than the average wage for janitors in poorer cities such as Cleveland and Detroit, where their counterparts earn more than $10 an hour.
This disparity exists even though Houston’s commercial real estate market is the strongest in the nation. Janitors clean the buildings belonging to some of the world’s most profitable companies, such as JPMorgan Chase and Shell, but they can’t afford to get by on what they’re paid.
The struggle broke into the open May 31 when 11 janitors at Pritchard Industries went on strike. Pritchard fired the workers, and the companies broke off negotiations and began threatening other workers with termination. Since then, the janitors have targeted certain employers for action—including a one-day strike at Greenway Plaza the evening of June 5. That same day, janitors marched through the city’s business district.
Strikers have been holding daily rallies downtown to draw attention not only to their struggle, but to advocate for all minimum-wage earners. At a June 14 rally, a mounted Houston police office intentionally knocked over a striking janitor with his horse, and then arrested another woman for jaywalking when she helped the striker off the ground.