Justice bus confronts employers in Houston

HOUSTON – The Harris County AFL-CIO Seventh Justice Bus stopped at 10 worksites in the Houston area on May 13. The aim of the visits was to cite employers for either their good or bad treatment of workers seeking contracts.

About 30 labor activists were on the bus and they formed human billboards at each site with individual workers holding a single letter to spell out either “Justice Here” or “No Justice Here” as the awards were given.

At the first stop, W.W. Contractors got a “Justice Here” award for the contract it signed with Operating Engineers, Local 564 at the Mickey Leland Federal Building downtown. The next stop was a few blocks away at Chevron Global Aviation where the Operating Engineers have successfully negotiated a first contract with P.M. Realty.

Later in the day, at the tenth stop, the Operating engineers gave Seafood Wholesalers, Ltd. a “No Justice Here” award because workers there have been intimidated and harassed for trying to form a union. Company representatives did not respond to demands for them to come out and receive their award.

There was a Maserati dealer across the street and service department employees came out to express their solidarity, saying they would like to form a union because of poor working conditions and wages and benefits there.

The United Steelworkers, Local 13-1, led activity at the third stop which was at Center Point Energy, also in the downtown section here. A “Justice Here?” award was given since contract talks are pending and workers are seeking a fair contract. At the sixth stop later in the day the Steelworkers also led a rally at Shell Deer Park Chemical Plant & Refinery where a “Justice Here?” award was given. A company representative appeared to receive the award where contract talks are pending and workers want a fair contract to follow the contract negotiated successfully four years ago. About 30 union members who were employees at the plant came out to join the rally.

The fourth stop was at the Federal Detention Center, also downtown, where American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1030, led demands for fair treatment for employees. Wrath was aimed at Warden Al Haynes who has numerous grievances against him for mistreatment of employees. Organizers pointed out that employees at the facility only stay for two years and are then transferred.

This means the detention center can make arbitrary decisions against workers and don’t have to face consequences. As a result, workers charge that the warden has several complaints against him including that he arbitrarily denies grievances, violates collective bargaining agreements and encourages frivolous investigations of employees. Participants demanded that the warden come out to receive his “No Justice Here?” award, but he did not appear. Guards in front of the facility refused to receive the award, so it was left on the front steps.

The Justice bus proceeded to the fifth stop which was at the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown. A “No Justice Here” award was presented to a company representative from Aramark, the multinational food service giant whose workers are struggling for a fair contract as well as dignity and respect on the job. Unfair labor practice charges have been filed against Aramark and workers staged a one day strike on May 8.

City Council member Jolanda Jones addressed the rally and threw her full support behind the workers. She had previously accompanied a delegation to demand that Aramark treat workers fairly.

Key Middle school, which has received a lot of attention due to its unhealthy physical environment, was the eighth stop. Houston Independent School District had planned to shut the school down and level it. They unexpectedly moved up a press conference and scheduled it for the time the Justice Bus arrived. During the press meeting they reversed themselves by announcing they would fix the environmental problems at the school which serves low income families. A “Justice Here?” award was presented.

The ninth stop was at A+ Maid Service where the Interfaith Worker Justice Center led a rally demanding that the company pay its workers. Workers told activists that they were paid for two days out of one week and then not paid at all for the second week.

The company received a “No Justice Here” award and an F minus for its poor treatment of workers.