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In Janitors' Own Words: Eleanora Parada

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Published on Aug 11, 2006

Last fall, more than 5,300 Houston janitors made the historic decision to form a union with SEIU—marking the largest organizing victory by private sector workers in Texas in years and capping off one of the most successful unionization drives ever in the southern half of the United States. Now that workers have headed to the bargaining table, the first-ever city-wide union contract for Houston janitors will have far-reaching significance as well.

Janitors employed by the city's five largest cleaning companies (ABM, GCA, OneSource, Sanitors, and Pritchard) are currently negotiating with their employers over access to health care, increased pay, and more hours. Living without health insurance and working part time for an average wage of only $5.30 an hour, janitors and their families currently have to choose between putting food on the table and a visit to the doctor.

With an ongoing health care crisis in Houston—1.1 million people in the Houston area are living without health insurance—the janitors' contract has important implications for easing the burden on taxpayers, businesses, and the city's public health system. Not only will a janitors' contract mean access to care for thousands of hard-working families currently forced to turn to emergency rooms for their primary source of care, the contract also offers a model for improving access to affordable health care for other service sector workers.

In addition, since 8 in 10 new jobs in Houston in the last decade have been service sector positions—including jobs in janitorial services—the janitors' contract will play a significant role in setting standards for good jobs with health care for the area's families and help define the kind of future in store for hard-working people in the region.

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