When is a Victory a Victory? Houston janitors reach tentative agreement


Houston's Janitor Strike 7/2012 photo by Dave Atwood

When is a Victory a Victory? by Massoud Nayeri 08.10.2012

On Wednesday (August 8), SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff with a team of the Union negotiators addressed a full-house of enthusiastic Janitors at the CWA Union Hall. Mr. Balanoff message was that “We made progress here in Houston”. I was there that evening and as one of the many supporters of the Janitors I was very excited to hear more about the progress that was made. I listened to the entire report and frankly during the report, this question came to my mind was “When is a Victory a Victory?” I was certainly happy to see that the Janitors had successfully negotiated a new tentative contract but what exactly they had won? The leadership of the SEIU negotiated a 25 cents increase wage for each of the next 4 years which goes to effect on January 2013. This means, in 2017, the janitors will make $9.35 per hour! Today the cost of 1 gallon of milk and 2 loafs of bread is a little under $10, so can you imagine what a janitor will be able to buy in 2017 with $9.35 ? In any union contract negotiation, the ratio of wage increase to the existing cost of living (at the time the wage is realized) needs to be considered; if not, then any wage increase will only be a mirage of a victory. A victory that you can only feel during the electrifying speeches but, in reality, it never materializes itself as food on the table. It will be an illusionary victory. I don’t know how the janitors really feel about this, but I’m certain that working people are much stronger and smarter and hopefully not fooled by empty promises that are originated in the Democratic Party main leadership circle who pretend to be labor’s friend during the electoral season. This “victory” for the Janitors’ was not a financial victory, rather it was a victory to show their power, confidence and hope for a better living conditions. They showed once again that only an organized group of people can achieve impossible tasks. Winning a 25 cents wage increase per year is not a victory. The janitors’ determination, sacrifices and readiness were the real victory for all hard working people. This was just a rehearsal for a bigger victory, in my opinion.

P.S. The Williams Tower in Houston is again up for sell (Houston Chronicle, Business Section, Aug. 8, 2012). It was purchased in 2008 by the Hines Real Estate Investment Trust for $271.5 million. According to Real Estate Alert the building can fetch $475 million in today’s market. That’s approximately an 80% increase in 4 years. This is an interesting figure if you compare it to the janitor’s $1.00 per hour increase in 4 years.