Victory for Houston’s Janitors


Correction: The Houston Chronicle reported the janitors’ agreement Wednesday night. DH apologizes for the error.

Janitor-victor-picYesterday, Houston’s striking janitors reached a tentative agreement with six of the seven companies who employ them to clean some of the city’s swankiest offices. The agreement, to be ratified on Saturday, ensures them a 12% raise. It ends more than two months of public demonstrations, strikes, and sometimes-risky civil disobedience.

The janitors’ previous contract, which expired at the end of May, gave them $8.35 an hour. The union, Service Employees International Union Local 1, pointed out that Chicago janitors, some employed by the same contractors, made $15.45 an hour, and sought a raise of $1.65 per hour over three years. The contractors called this unreasonable and countered with an offer of $.50 over five years.

Under the new contract, janitors will receive a raise of one dollar per hour installed over the next four years.

As the strike spread to other cities, national media outlets, such as Marketplace and the Huffington Post, paid it significant attention as a component of the larger conversation about the disappearing middle class. Houston media, however, has paid the strike less and less attention. Both the Houston Chronicle and the Houston Press failed to report the janitors’ dramatic shutdown of a crucial intersection last Wednesday (detailed by DH here) and has, as of this writing, not reported yesterday’s agreement, which was announced late last night.

Houston as a whole ought to be rather self-conscious at the moment about its rich-poor divide. Last Wednesday, the Pew Research Center released a national study of income segregation—that is, the prevalence of upper-income households to live in majority upper-income neighborhoods, and low-income households among low-income. Of 30 major U.S. cities ranked by segregation, Houston came in first.

The report states, “These increases are related to the long-term rises in income inequality, which has led to a shrinkage in the share of neighborhoods across the United States that are predominantly middle class or mixed income.”

In other words, as the gap grows between rich and poor, it also grows more invisible.

Tom Balanoff, President of the SEIU Local 1, said in a statement, “The janitors’ victory brings hope to security officers, airport workers and others trapped by poverty wages. Our economy is broken, and unless we do something to turn low-wage jobs into good jobs, the middle class will be the great disappearing act of the 21st century.”