Photos by Keith Plocek for HouStoned Images Ltd., Ulmtd.
These ladies are sick of cleaning up trash and being treated like junk.

Royal Flush

Growing up in Houston, the only union I knew anything about was the one that killed the 1994 baseball season and enabled Jeff Bagwell to earn the National League MVP award before he had the chance to suck, as he always did, at the end of the season. Killer B, my butt.

But I digress.

My point: Houston isn't much of a union town.

My case in point: Many of Houston's janitors work for the same national cleaning companies as do janitors in other cities, but our janitors earn a lot less and have fewer benefits.

Why? Because janitors in other cities have banded together and demanded better working conditions.

But it seems Houston's janitors have discovered the union playbook.

This simple signs says it all.

This afternoon a small cadre of purple-shirted Hispanic women sprung forth from the Wells Fargo building downtown, shaking water bottles filled with coins and chanting "S�, se puede."

The women, who are janitors and members of the Service Employees International Union, have been rallying for better wages and access to health care. They've been in talks with commercial landlords and apparently haven't gotten much love, so it was time for a press conference.

Here's what SEIU negotiator Tom Balanoff had to say:

"We told them we were ready to bargain at any time, but at this point in time they have offered us no new bargaining dates.

"We believe the contractors should come to the table and bargain in good faith, but apparently that's not going to happen.

"We will be talking to janitors across the city over the next several days, and we will inform of our next step after those discussions."

And then he said it: "There very well could be a strike."

According to SEIU, janitors across the country have donated $1 million toward the Houston strike fund, which would make for a little breathing room in the event the 5,300 local SEIU janitors decide to put down their mops and pick up banners.

Says Balanoff:

"This is a fight about what's right. This is a fight about adults who get up every day and go to work and have a right to earn a living wage and should have a right to have health insurance. The contractors and the building owners in this city provide that in 20-plus cities throughout the country, and there's no reason why they can't for Houston."

That sounds fine and dandy, but you have to wonder exactly how well his message is going to be received in a town like this. — Keith Plocek

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