Tomorrow the Houston janitors' strike, now in its second week, will spread to eight cities across the country.
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.
In Houston now 400 janitors are on strike in 18 buildings with more expected to join the strike this week
The strike has garnered significant national support.
Earlier this month the activist actor Danny Glover along with Democratic Texas Representatives Al Green and Sheila Jackson, announced the formation of a task force to protect the janitor's first amendment rights.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous spoke about the plight of the janitors during his keynote address at the NAACP's convention in Houston last Monday.
"What's happening in Houston is a microcosm of what's happening to our whole country," said Elsa Caballero, State Director for SEIU in Texas. "The gap between the richest one percent and working families is growing every day. It's going to take bold action to rebuild our country's middle class."
The janitors' contract in Houston expired on May 31. The janitors had requested a raise from $8.35 per hour to $10 per hour, spread over four years.
The janitorial contractors responded by offering only a 50-cent raise, spread over five years.
Saying that a pay scale like that would guarantee they remain in poverty, janitors turned down the offer.
When the companies responded to their rejection of the offer with harassment and intimidation the workers called a July 11 citywide strike.
In all eight cities affected by the strike this week, janitors clean the offices of some of the wealthiest corporations in the world including Chevron, Hines, Brookfield, Shell Oil, and JPMorgan Chase.
The low salaries in Houston are particularly disgraceful, the union says, because in that city commercial real estate is doing better than anywhere else in the U.S. Average commercial rents in Houston are higher than rents in Chicago, for example, where janitors are paid more than three times as much annually as Houston janitors.
Photo: Earlier this year, janitors represented by SEIU's Local 1 demonstrated outside office buildings in Chicago's financial district. John Wojcik/PW