HOUSTON - November 20 - On the heels of a string of victories in Miami, Los Angeles and Boston that have resulted in dramatic gains for families, more than 5,300 janitors in Houston won higher wages, more hours, and health insurance in their first city-wide union contract. The contract will lift hundreds of janitors out of poverty, more than doubling their income within 24 months and guaranteeing secure affordable health care. Houston is the second major victory for janitors in less than a year, and is being seen as a major breakthrough in the South and for low-wage workers around the country.
Workers, community, elected and religious leaders will join SEIU to hold a "Convention for the Future" to map out a plan to unite the approximately 1,700 workers who are not included in the recognition agreement and to build an anti-poverty campaign to take on low-wage jobs in early December. The convention will draw upon the strong coalition of faith, political and community leaders that stood with janitors during the strike.
"This is an incredible victory for our families and for all families," said Ercilia Sandoval. "When I go back to work, I will go back proud of what we have accomplished, not just for us and our families, but for all of the workers in this city who work very hard but are paid very little. We showed what can be done, what must be done to make America a better place,"
The agreement provides Houston janitors with victories on four key fronts:
* Higher Wages. Janitors will see their wages rise by 126 percent over the course of the contract-with an immediate 21% increase on January 1. Janitors pay will increase to $6.25 an hour on January 1, 2007, $7.25 an hour on January 1, 2008, and $7.75 by January 1, 2009.
* More Hours. The new contract will increase work hours for janitors currently provided with only 4 hours of work a night to six hours a shift in two years. The additional hours and the wage increase mean that janitors who make $5.15 an hour will see their income more than double by the end of 2008.
* Quality, Affordable Health Insurance. At a time when many employers are shifting health care costs on to workers, Houston janitors won individual health insurance at a cost of only $20 per month. Family insurance will also be available for a cost of $175 a month. The health insurance will become available starting January 1, 2009.
* Paid Holidays and Vacation Time. The contract will allow workers-many for the first time in their lives-paid time off from work. Janitors will receive six paid holidays per year and be able to accrue paid vacation time beginning the first year of the contract.
The increase in wages and health insurance will dramatically improve the lives of 5,300 of Houston's janitors, most of whom had been earning as little as $20 a day without benefits. The increase in wages and hours will lift many families out of poverty, and provide janitors and their families with a steppingstone into the middle class while the health insurance will ensure workers have access to affordable health care.
"Houston janitors have shown that organized labor still has the power to inspire and improve the lives of workers. When ably led workers unite, they can win major improvements," said Julius Getman, a professor at the University of Texas Law School. "If low-wage janitors in Houston can win a victory of this magnitude, the message to workers throughout the South should be clear-in solidarity lies strength."
In the last month alone, more than 10,000 workers of all races in every corner of the country-including the South-have risked their jobs to win a voice at work by voting to form a union. And tens of millions are demanding a change in direction by voting to realign the country politically.
* 5,000 security officers in Los Angeles-70% of whom are African Americans-made a major breakthrough Wednesday, securing their civil right to freely form a union with SEIU;
* 250 security officers who protect the Harvard campus won their right Wednesday to have a voice at work by organizing a union with SEIU;
* Nearly 500 Cuban and Haitian janitors at two South Florida universities, Nova Southeastern and Florida International, won a voice on the job last month;
* Nearly 4,000 nurses, technicians, professionals, and other hospital workers of all different ethnicities at six Florida hospitals voted to form a union with SEIU just since October 10.
The workers' union efforts bring to life exit polls showing that 7 in 10 voters said their family's economic situation had either gotten worse or stayed the same since the last election and 8 in 10 said the economy was "very or extremely important." It also reflects recent polling showing that for the first time, a majority of parents in America believe their children will be worse off financially than they are. With a renewed focus on core economic issues, in the last election, six states passed laws to raise the minimum wage and voters elected a new Congress that campaigned explicitly on issues of raising the minimum wage and increasing access to quality, affordable health care.
Last fall, 5,300 Houston janitors made the historic choice to form a union with SEIU (Service Employees International Union). Their decision capped one of the largest successful organizing drives by private sector workers ever in the Southern half of the United States. Since forming a union with SEIU, Houston janitors have been seeking wage increases, more hours, and health insurance in a citywide union contract.
Nationwide, more than 225,000 janitors in 29 cities are members of SEIU.