Thousands of Houston-area janitors on strike


The contract dispute involves more than 3,000 janitors in the Houston area, mostly downtown and the Galleria

They work in some of the most extravagant high rises in Houston and say they must still work two and three jobs to just get by.

"We are living in a house below the poverty level; we are making $9,000 a year. It's not enough to survive in this city," janitor Hernan Trujillo said.

Houston janitors say they have no choice but to call for an unfair labor practice strike.

Trujillo cleans high rise elevators and escalators.

"Many people are complaining that we have these jobs because we are uneducated, but how are we suppose to get an education if we are working 12 or 16 hours a day?" he said.

The Service Employee's International Union says contract negotiations between the janitors and their employers broke down and their previous contract expired May 31.

Janitors currently make $8.35 an hour and are asking for incremental raises over the next three years to reach $10 an hour.

A rep for the Houston Area Contractors Association, which represents three of the seven companies in the contract dispute, says:

"We seek an agreement that is in the mutual best interest of all parties... In these economic times, customers need to manage costs very carefully... The union's proposal was simply unrealistically high "

But Mayor Annise Parker weighed in on Friday saying, "We have recovered from the national economic downturn faster than any other major city. I urge the Houston janitors and cleaning companies to return to the table to negotiate a contract that is fair and just."

The janitors say more strikes are planned as they fight for a livable wage.

"I'm always deciding what am I suppose to do -- this day I cannot eat because my parents need their medicines. This time I have to find someone that can take me to my job because I can not even pay the fare for the METRO bus," Trujillo said.

There's no timetable to return to negotiations, and every time workers strike, the building they are supposed to be cleaning goes without it's trash emptied and toiletries not restocked.

More strikes are possibly in the works.

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