Justice for Janitors?

Marta Russell ap888 at SPAMlafn.org
Thu May 25 22:11:49 MDT 2000

I would comment that the in home workers (IHSS) in CA who work for minimum
wage (in a few counties they get more), no health care and no paid vacation
are now organized by SEIU but are not mentioned in this assessment.


The People

June 2000 (Vol. 110, No. 3)

'Justice For Janitors' Goals:
Were They Set High Enough?

By Ken Boettcher <thepeople at igc.org>

As the last issue of THE PEOPLE went to press, the Service
Employees International Union was working to expand its Los
Angeles strike of 8,500 members of Local 1877 to SEIU locals
in several other major U.S. cities. Now, weeks later, the
SEIU's so-called Justice for Janitors 2000 Campaign is
coming to a close as several of those strikes, including the
one in Los Angeles, have ended in what the union has
trumpeted as "victories."

In city after city, new labor agreements between the
janitors and the building maintenance contractors who are
their employers provide wage increases and, in some cases,
benefit improvements.

But are these increases really "victories"?

There is no question that the workers deserve victories.
They labor under often adverse conditions at hard work
usually considered demeaning in existing society. In many
cases, they fought long and hard to become part of a union.
They courageously voted to go on strike despite the
increased hardships involved, and then conducted themselves
with courage and honor when they were out on the picket
lines. When the new labor contracts expire three years from
now, however, most will still be making less than $10 an
hour. They will still be struggling to make ends meet and
still suffering because that is about all that $10 an hour
can guarantee these days. That is enough to put these
"victories" into perspective and show how hollow they are
for the janitors.

For the SEIU officialdom, however, there is no doubt that
the new contracts constitute victories. After all, the
stated goal of the Justice for Janitors 2000 campaign was
simply "to improve wages and working conditions in the
janitorial industry," as one SEIU Web document put it. The
union met that goal -- and by meeting it locked the janitors
into near-starvation-level wages for the life of the new

Indeed, a primary UNSTATED goal of any business union was
also met -- that being to prove to the employers that the
SEIU can still deliver labor peace at not too high a price.
As a report on the SEIU's Web site about the Los Angeles
strike put it, "The three-week strike forged new
relationships between the janitors' union and many of Los
Angeles' top building owners." No wonder. The SEIU labor
merchandisers have in this year's negotiations shown that
they can deliver the promise of three years of labor peace
at a very agreeable price per head -- and not just in Los
Angeles. Here are the actual figures:

- In downtown Chicago, the strike had barely gotten under
way when employers agreed that 5,500 SEIU janitors should
receive a pay increase of $1.10 spread over the three-year
life of the new contract.

- In suburban Chicago, where employers resisted for two
weeks, 4,500 SEIU janitors will receive family health care
coverage and an increase of $1.35 per hour over three years.
Three long, hard years from now they will reach the glorious
wage of $8.00 per hour.

- Fifteen thousand New York City SEIU members who work for
residential building service contractors will receive pay
increases of 3.5 percent per year over three years, improved
health and pension benefits and a training fund that will
help them gain access to the Internet.

- In Los Angeles, Local 1877 members who work in suburban
areas will receive a $1.50 per hour increase over three
years (in addition to health benefits and a 40-cent-an-hour
raise they got in January). Downtown workers will receive an
increase of $1.90 per hour over three years. Both groups
received a one-time $500 bonus that won't begin to cover the
wages they lost during the strike. The highest paid among
them will have soared to the incredible heights of $9.80 per
hour three years from now.

- In Cleveland, SEIU janitors will receive 22-25 percent pay
increases over three years, about the same as in Los

- Portland SEIU janitors, according to the SEIU's Web site,
"secured" a citywide master contract with Portland building
service contractors and won "significant pay increases."
Significant to whom one wonders?

- The SEIU strike in San Diego ended shortly before this
issue of THE PEOPLE went to press, with an increase of 50
cents per hour in the first year of a three-year contract,
40 cents per hour in the second, and $171 per month toward
health insurance in the third. Even with these increases, in
2003 janitors in downtown San Diego will be earning only
$7.90 per hour.

The workers, of course, deserve every penny of these
increases and more. They deserve, Socialists say, the
economic abundance and security that all workers deserve --
something that requires the ABOLITION OF CAPITALISM and the
ESTABLISHMENT OF SOCIALISM for them to get. What they got
was, of course, nowhere near what they deserve.

What they got was what they can expect from a business union
like the SEIU. Because it accepts the capitalist system of
exploitation, it, like other such unions, cannot challenge
capitalism. The SEIU, like other unions that support wage
exploitation, merely want to horse trade with capitalists to
keep their own bureaucrats in the privileged positions to
which they are accustomed. The labor power of the workers is
the "horse" they trade.


[Articles on LAAMN-NEWS may be forwarded and posted on other mailing
lists, as long as the wording/attribution is not altered in any way.
In particular, if there is a reference to a web site where an article
was originally located, please do *not* remove that.

Unless stated otherwise, do *not* publish or post the entire text of
any articles on web sites or in print, without getting *explicit*
permission from the article author or copyright holder. Check the fair
use provisions of the copyright law in your country for details on what
you can and can't do.

As a courtesy, we'd appreciate it if you let folks know how to subscribe
to LAAMN-NEWS, by leaving in the first five lines of the signature below.]

LAAMN-NEWS: Los Angeles Alternative Media Network - News Articles
Subscribe: Email "subscribe laamn-news" to <majordomo at tao.ca>
Unsubscribe: Email "unsubscribe laamn-news" to <majordomo at tao.ca>
Digest: Email "subscribe laamn-news-digest" to <majordomo at tao.ca>
Archive: http://www.egroups.com/group/laamn-news (When accessing for
the first time, set the "Delivery Mode" to "Read On The Web Only")
Questions/Problems: Send email to <worker-laamn-news at lists.tao.ca>

Marta Russell
Los Angeles, CA
Beyond Ramps: Disability at the End of the Social Contract

More information about the Marxism mailing list