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The Militant this week
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Janitors in Houston win battle for union
December 17 picket by Utah miners will mark one year since union vote
Truckers at Los Angeles port fight lower pay and longer hours
Washington expands ‘post-conflict’ operations of U.S. military
New elections called in Canada after gov’t loses confidence vote
As we go to press…
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‘Our history is still being written’
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 69/No. 49December 19, 2005


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Janitors in Houston
win battle for union
lead article 

Flora Aguilar (at podium) announces in Houston November 30 that 4,700 janitors there won representation with the Service Employees International Union. To the left are co-workers Marķa Luisa Berlanga, Ercilia Sandoval, and Flor Camacho.

HOUSTON—In a victory for the entire labor movement, 4,700 janitors working for four of the largest cleaning companies here have won representation with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The unionized janitors represent about 60 percent of cleaners in the city’s largest office buildings. The New York-based American Arbitration Association certified November 29 that the SEIU had obtained the signatures of a majority of Houston’s 7-8,000 office cleaners. The announcement opens the way to winning the first union contract for janitors in Houston. It is the first major union-organizing victory here in 25 years.

The organizing campaign began in April and met with resistance from the contracting companies. In July the janitors held a 10-day strike against ABM Janitorial Services. Currently the average pay for a janitor in Houston is $5.30 per hour, or 15 cents above the minimum wage.

“We struck over the heavy workload and the very low pay,” Albino Hernández, who worked for ABM at First City Tower, told the Militant. “The company first handed out a paper telling us to have nothing to do with the union, but most of us signed up anyway. A number of us were fired for our support to the union. This is a big victory for all of us. I’m not working there now, but I’m totally with the union.”

The strikers received support from union members across the United States. Teamsters and other unionists honored the picket lines of the striking janitors.

The workers soon reached an agreement with five contracting companies—One Source Facility Services, Sanitors Services of Texas, GCA Services Group, ABM Janitorial Services, and Pritchard Industries Southwest—requiring the bosses to recognize the union if a majority of employees signed cards. The certification of the cards has now made union representation official at all except Pritchard.

“Today, I am very proud to say we did it, Houston janitors,” Flora Aguilar told the press December 1 in making the official announcement. Aguilar, one of the newly organized janitors, was speaking to dozens of workers who had gathered at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston that day.

According to an SEIU press release, workers at other cleaning firms will press to use this victory to also win union recognition.
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