Labor History in 2:00

November 16 - Justice for Janitors

November 16, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 2006. 

That was the day mounted police charged 50 janitors and their supporters during a protest in Houston. 

SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign had been organizing for years throughout the South and Southwest. 

Modeled on success achieved in California, SEIU broadened their campaign to Houston and Miami. 

The union called a month long strike against the cities’ largest cleaning companies. 

Protests and civil disobedience actions continued throughout the strike. 

Hundreds of strikers routinely marched through the streets of Houston, beating drums and hauling bags of garbage into the middle of intersections to highlight the key services they provided to the city.

They were subject to repeated threats of firings and arrests. 

When police charged at the janitors, it served to turn public support in favor of the strikers. 

By the end of the month, Tom Balanoff and SEIU Local 1 in Chicago claimed victory for 5300 Houston janitors.

The Chicago local had been central to the three-year campaign in Houston. 

Incomes doubled and janitors finally had health insurance, paid vacations and holidays. 

The Chicago Tribune detailed the campaign in a November 25 article.

The union lobbied building owners and major corporations who held contracts with the cleaning companies. 

The union worked to gain a foothold among the janitors, sending in seasoned Latino janitors from Chicago to help with organizing. 

The SEIU also committed millions of dollars to the organizing drive, setting aside $1 million alone in strike funds. 

At a victory rally, union leader Flor Aguilar proclaimed, “No one thought that a group of poor Latinos form Houston would be able to win anything, but today we can lift our heads up very high.”


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