Houston janitors reach deal to end strike

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Houston janitors ended a month long strike today against the city's five major cleaning companies after reaching a tentative agreement that will guarantee higher wages, more work hours and medical benefits.

Houston janitors ended a month long strike today against the city's five major cleaning companies after reaching a tentative agreement that will guarantee higher wages, more work hours and medical benefits.

"No one thought that a group of poor Latinos from Houston would be able to win anything, but today we can lift our heads up very high," Flor Aguilar, one of the janitors and a member of the bargaining committee, said in Spanish to a crowd of about 2,000 people after the agreement was ratified tonight.

"Where I come from there is a saying and it goes, 'Don't mess with Texas.' Today I can say don't mess with Houston janitors."

The settlement was hailed as a major victory for the 5,300 janitors who last year organized under the Service Employees International Union. It is the first citywide union contract since janitors formed a union last November.

Under today's agreement, the SEIU janitors will get a 50.5 percent pay raise over the two-year contract. On Jan. 1, pay will increase to $6.25 an hour, a 21 percent increase over current wage of $5.15 an hour. That will go up to $7.25 an hour on Jan. 1, 2008, and $7.75 on Jan. 1, 2009.

When Mercedes Herrera, a member of the bargaining committee, asked the crowd tonight if they would vote for the contract, she was met with a resounding yes.

At one point during the evening, the crowd chanted, "Si se pudo," meaning "Yes, we did."

"I consider this a milestone in the city of Houston," Mayor Bill White told reporters after the settlement was reached. "And more importantly, something that will lift the lives of hard-working residents trying to get by each day."

The new contract also guarantees more hours of work for janitors, many of whom currently are limited to four hours of work a night. The settlement calls for that to go up to six hours a night within the next two years.

Janitors also will receive health insurance starting Jan. 1, 2009. Individual health insurance will cost $20 a month, while family insurance will be available for a cost of $175 a month.

The contract also includes vacation and six paid holidays a year. Workers will be able to accrue paid vacation beginning the first year of the contract.

About 1,700 janitors walked off the job Oct. 23 after talks broke off with ABM Janitorial Services, GCA Services, OneSource, Sanitors Services of Texas and Pritchard Industries Southwest. The janitors, who made an average of $5.15 an hour, were seeking better pay and health insurance.

The Houston strike was the latest in a series of strikes organized through SEIU's Justice for Janitors campaign. Many saw Houston as a pivotal battleground in the campaign, which already had garnered victories for janitors in Los Angeles, Boston and Miami.

In Houston, where more than 58 buildings were affected by the walk-out, striking SEIU janitors and their supporters rallied and walked picket lines in the city's downtown and shopping districts. They also staged civil disobedience actions that blocked traffic in Houston's busiest intersections.

The Houston strikers also received support from politicians and union members around the country. Sympathy strikes and rallies were held in other cities, including Los Angeles, Sacramento and Chicago.

"We got people to stand up and pay attention," union spokeswoman Lynda Tran said.

Officials with ABM Janitorial Services, Pritchard Industries and Sanitors Services did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment today.

"Houston won big," Herrera said. "We have a better future for working families in Houston."

Find out more: http://www.houstonjanitors.org/

Posted By

Jacques Roux
Nov 21 2006 10:44

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