Negotiations Resume As Houston Janitorsí Strike Nears Second Month
Three weeks after hundreds of Houston janitors went on strike, janitorial contractors and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 returned to the negotiating table on Thursday. But the bargaining concluded Friday without a settlement or an end to the strike.
As I’ve reported, negotiations over janitors' third union contract broke down at the end of May. Following a series of June work stoppages, hundreds began walking off the job on July 10. Their cause caught fire nationwide, sparking a series of high-profile demonstrations, solidarity strikes and statements of support.
Wages are a key sticking point. SEIU proposed an increase from $8.35 to $10.00 over three years, but management’s “last, best, and final” offer in May raised wages only fifty cents over five years. "The union's proposal makes their lives a little better, while [management's] proposal pushes the janitors deeper into poverty," SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff wrote in a July 30 letter.
Also at issue: a clause in the janitors' current contract that allows contractors to bid on some accounts at lower wage and benefit rates and then bring compensation up to the contract's standard over a three year period. SEIU says that while the clear intent of the language was to apply only to bidding on non-union accounts, contractors are now claiming it applies to union accounts as well. Balanoff's letter calls this "a blatant attempt to destroy the Houston janitors' union."
Talks are set to resume on Wednesday. The contractors are employed by major corporations like Exxon Mobile and JP Morgan Chase, which SEIU leaders believe hold the ultimate decision-making power in the negotiations.