The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Dissident Unions Working Together to Organize Janitors

by Brendan Coyne

Aug. 5, 2005 – In a sign that a newly-formed coalition of organized labor groups may be ready to co-ordinate efforts to bring more workers into the labor movement, five unions announced that they would do "whatever it takes" to support another union’s efforts to organize janitors employed by the nation’s largest cleaning company.

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Friday, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) announced that five member groups of the recently-formed Change to Win Coalition had pledged to support its ongoing organizing campaign against ABM Industries with people, resources "and any other assistance that may be necessary."

The unions, Unite Here, the Teamsters, United Food and Commercial workers, United Farm Workers and the Laborers, formed CTW as an effort to organize and mobilize workers in the US in June. SEIU, the Teamsters and UFCW left the AFL-CIO last week.

ABM Industries, which provides janitorial, parking, engineering, security and other services to companies nationwide, employs over 73,000 people and took in over $2.4 billion last year, according to company information. Over half of the company’s workforce belongs to a union, ABM noted in a statement.

But according to news reports and the SEIU, unionized workers make substantially more than their non-unionized counterparts. Janitors in Houston, for instance, make little more than $5 an hour, and in Indianapolis they receive only about $7 an hour on average, the Daily Texan reported.

By comparison, the company pays its unionized janitors between $10 and $20 an hour and provides them with health benefits, according to SEIU.

ABM janitors in Houston and Indianapolis have been struggling for two years to organize a union. Near the end of July, the janitors walked off the job in both cities to protest what they claim were unfair labor practices by ABM, including harassing workers and threatening them with the loss of their jobs, SEIU said.

Employees of ABM in other cities quickly pledged to support the picketing workers, engaging in a one-day walkout three days after the strikes began, according to the Sacramento Bee.

The janitors returned to work ten days after the strike began, when ABM and SEIU agreed to terms that include the company agreeing to reinstate a fired worker and the union dropping a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the Houston Chronicle reported last Thursday.

According to statements from both sides, differences between the two have not been resolved.

The decision to actively support the SEIU drive is the first joint action the CTW Coalition has taken since its inception.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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