Houston Janitors Want a Fair Wage

Some of Houston's most profitable companies are being asked to share some of their success with the workers who clean their buildings. Janitors with the Service Employees International Union will start negotiations on a new deal next week as their current contract is set to expire next month.

Every night you'll find Hernan Trujillo on the elevator at the downtown high rise building that used to be the Reliant Energy Corporate Office.

Trujillo is a janitor. His job is to clean the elevators. All 20 of them. Trujillo and other janitors are paid just over $8 an hour. Working six hours a day, their yearly salary comes out to less than $9,000 a year.

"If you work hard, you think that you can have a better future and you can make a living. But unfortunately, in this case it is not true, because not matter how hard you try, you cannot provide for your family and you can hardly meet your own needs."

The janitors are actually hired by about 7 different large cleaning agencies. The agencies negotiate their own deals with the building's owners.

Six years ago, janitors went on strike for five weeks before reaching an agreement. Union Director Elsa Caballero says Houston's economy has improved and her workers deserve a small piece of the pie.

"Janitors currently are making less than $9,000 a year, which is half of what they need to make to be able to live here in Houston. This is just going to help the economy. If Houston families are making better wages, if working families are getting good jobs, that can only continue to help the economy of Houston."

Caballero says the union is asking for a fair wage,  one that will help workers provide for their family. How much is that?

Well she says she can't give a dollar figure until after they sit at the negotiating table.

"Once we do that we might at some point be able to come back with 'here's what the janitors are looking for.' But right now I think the best answer I can give you is $9,000 is not enough. There's no way that any working family can live on $9,000. Why should any worker be expected to do that?"1

While they aren't ready to throw out numbers publicly, the union does point to Chicago as an example of fair wages. Janitors there recently won a contract that will pay them anywhere from $11 an hour up to $16 an hour.

The first bargaining session in Houston is set for next week.