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Week of 10.27.06

Janitor Justice?

Video: Janitor Justice?
Video icon Video: Janitor Justice?
Photo: Meenu Bhardwaj
The state of Texas is home to the highest number of minimum wage workers in the country — 176,000 people — earning as little as $5.15 an hour. Many are immigrants. Many work in the service industry or as janitors. In fact, the janitors in Houston earn less than janitors in any other big city in America. But with federal minimum wage bills stalled in Congress and no minimum wage initiatives on the Texas ballot this year (unlike six other states), many workers feel stuck in a cycle of economic desperation.

Nancy Morin, a young Houston janitor and widow trying to support her entire family on minimum wage, told NOW, "With $5.15 (an hour), I can't pay electricity, rent, nothing!"

Enter the SEIU, the Service Employees International Union. Last year over 5000 Houston janitors, including Nancy, signed up with the union to press for living wages and benefits that at least match those found in other states. They named their cause "Justice for Janitors," and they called a strike just this week to fight for a living wage.

Eliseo Medina, International Vice President of the SEIU, says the minimum wage debate is more than a simple issue of economics. "What kind of society are we going to be in the future?" Medina told NOW. "Are we going to resemble more and more a third world country, or a superpower?"

But joining a union is a risky move for someone in a low-skill job when your entire livelihood is on the line and your employer has little incentive to change.

Related Links:

» The Service Employees International Union

» Justice for Janitors


AP Photos
Strike photos courtesy of Meenu Bhardwaj


Producer: Steve Brand
Associate Producers: Mona Iskander, Jessica Wang
Editor: Larry Goldfine
Senior Producer: Joel Schwartzberg
Camera: Jim Bowen
Audio: Robert Porter