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.”