Support for a large group of striking janitors in Houston spread across the country on Wednesday as hundreds of janitors and human rights activists in 17 cities protested in front of office buildings. The nationwide protest comes after seven people, including 5 janitors, were arrested at a protest on Tuesday in Houston as part of ongoing acts of peaceful civil disobedience by the workers.
Houston janitors are now on their fourth week on strike over unfair labor practices.
"Janitors are standing up to some of the biggest and wealthiest corporations in the world for a chance at a better life for their families. When janitors in Houston began to campaign for a better life, they were met with intimidation from their employers," stated Service Employees International Union.
"We're striking because we have no other option," says Houston janitor Lidia Aguillon. "We can't make ends meet on what we are paid, and when we stand up for ourselves, we're punished and harassed."
Houston office cleaners are some of the lowest paid in the nation, with an average yearly salary of $9,000. The janitors in Houston on average earn a top wage of $8.35 an hour. The strikers are seeking a raise to $10 an hour. About 475 janitors are on strike at about 50 buildings; however, bargaining will continue between the janitors and the Houston Area Contractors Association on Thursday.
About 150 Houston janitors were in downtown Houston Wednesday morning. Some created a street sit-in to blockade a major intersection, which lead to several arrests. Organizers of the protests are expecting there will be dozens of arrests by the end of the day. Some 500 protesters are expected to rally in the Galleria area of the city during rush hour.
Similar solidarity actions are taking place in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York City, Portland, San Diego, San Ramon, Seattle, St. Louis, Toronto, and Washington, D.C.
"It's all coming to a boiling point," Martinez said. "Janitors want to make a big statement. We are going to do whatever it takes. It's not about janitors anymore, it's about being the city we want to be," said union spokeswoman Paloma Martinez.
"They are invisible when they are cleaning after hours at 6 p.m.," she said. "We are invisible no more out in the streets, you can't ignore us."