3,000 San Francisco janitors prepare for a strike
August 12, 2012
The national confrontation between janitors and some of the world’s richest property owners has arrived in San Francisco where, on Wednesday, over two thousand building cleaners shut down the city’s main artery, Market Street, in a huge march. Later, twenty-seven workers and supporters were arrested in a financial district intersection as they blocked it in an act of civil disobedience.
Among the many banners carried by the marchers, by far the most common was one that said, “We Are Ready to Strike the 1%.” It clearly summed up workers’ anger, which made this march even larger than one three days earlier and others organized during the weeks prior.
A strike is on the near horizon in San Francisco, according to Olga Miranda, president of Service Employees Local 87, one of the oldest janitors’ unions in the country. “Our members are determined to go on strike and we’ve already called for a strike vote,” she shouted over the chants of marchers. “They’re telling us the union must lead and going on strike is our recommendation.”
The local already took a vote to authorize a strike when its contract expired on July 31 with the city’s main building service employers, Able Building Maintenance, American Building Maintenance and the San Francisco Contractors Association. That was fine with janitor Mohamed Ismael, who said, “A strike is possible. We don’t like to go on strike, but if they don’t make a reasonable proposal, if they tell us this is what you’re going to get, if we go to the end of the line, then it’s better for us to go on strike.”
At issue in San Francisco is the same sticking point in most union contract negotiations - health care costs and wages. San Francisco janitors are the second most highly paid in the country, after New York City, but the city’s living costs are so high that few can afford to live there. Ismael was fortunate enough to find affordable housing in the city 20 years ago. But now, the contractors are demanding that workers pay $600 a month for family health care coverage and he has a wife and four children. They offer a raise of 50¢ an hour, which would total about $85, resulting in an effective wage cut of $515 a month.
“If they do this, there is no way I could live as a human being in San Francisco,” Ismael said. “I would have to leave.”
Miranda claims bitterly “they’re forcing families out of their homes. We have these benefits because our union has been here for 78 years. We’re saying, don’t take away what we already have. They’re offering 50¢ and they have revenues of millions. We absolutely cannot afford to pay this.”