Thousands of Houston janitors may go on strike this week if wage talks fail

Thousands of Houston’s contract janitors are still in negotiations for a pay raise Wednesday morning after overnight talks.

The workers could go on strike this week if those negotiations fail to increase their minimum wage to $15 an hour. Talks begin again Wednesday at noon. 

“We bargained through the night and made some progress,” union spokesperson Renee Asher wrote in an email. “However, we still have a ways to go.”

At a press conference outside of City Hall Tuesday, SEIU Texas President Elsa Caballero said many of Houston’s contract janitors aren’t making a livable wage under the current contract. She said a majority work on a part-time basis due to reduced hours, making as little as $10.75 an hour — about $50 a day.

“We know that those are poverty wages,” Caballero said. “What (janitors are) asking for is to be able to take care of their family with the dignity and the respect that they deserve.” 

SEIU Texas represents more than 2,800 Houston-area janitors.

The current contract is set to expire at midnight, with a new contract being negotiated throughout the day Tuesday between the union and Houston’s private janitorial companies. The union’s goal is to secure a pay bump of at least $15 per hour and to increase the number of provided sick days and paid leave.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Caballero said negotiations were moving slowly due to an apparent disagreement regarding whether the janitors were being paid enough to counter the rise in inflation.

“The prices of everything is going up,” she said. “But their wages continue to be staggering at a low $10.75 an hour.”

This comes after Houston City Council raised the minimum wage for all municipal employees — including janitors — to $15 an hour last year. In February, Mayor Sylvester Turner signed an executive order to raise the hourly wage for Houston airport workers to $15 by the end of 2023.

Caballero said the precedent for a $15 minimum wage has already has been set, and that the union was ready to go on strike as early as Wednesday morning if negotiations fell through. 

“It’s important to understand that we’re not asking the contractors to jump over some sort of high equitable thing that they cannot reach,” she said. “Workers want to be paid a fair wage.”

This article was originally published on Houston Public Media