Houston’s contract janitors are planning to strike if upcoming wage negotiations fail

The current contract will expire at the end of the month, leaving many janitors hopeful for an increase to their hourly minimum wage.

Houston janitors protest for a $15 minimum wage near City Hall on May 18, 2022.
Houston’s contract janitors held a demonstration near City Hall on May 18, 2022 to demand a $15 minimum wage ahead of upcoming contract negotiations.

Houston’s contract janitors gathered near City Hall Wednesday evening in preparation for a potential strike if upcoming contract negotiations fail to increase their minimum wage to $15 an hour.

During a demonstration at Tranquility Park, which was organized by a labor union for janitorial workers called SEIU Texas, more than a hundred janitors expressed their frustration with both their wages and the lack of respect they received in their roles.

SEIU Texas President Elsa Caballero led the demonstration. She said the union had two goals in mind.

"One is to make a demand, a very public demand, that Texas is big enough for $15, that they deserve to win and make $15 an hour to take care of their families," Caballero said. "And, to take a strike vote and give us directions on what to do if we’re not able to get that at the table.”

That strike vote, which the crowd voted to approve during the demonstration, allows the union’s bargaining committee to call a strike if the pay increase isn’t granted.

Caballero said the union plans to hold more demonstrations this week ahead of the current contract’s expiration on May 31.

As of right now, a majority of contract janitors in Houston work part-time, making as little as $10.75 an hour, according to SEIU Texas. However, the contract is set to expire for at least 2,800 Houston-area janitors at the end of the month, leaving many hopeful for a new contract that would not only increase the hourly minimum wage to $15, but also increase the number of provided sick days and paid leave.

Among the crowd during Wednesday’s demonstration was Meyworkl Perez, who’s been a janitor for the past 15 years.

"(They) used to work us every day, every day and you’ve got no life," Perez said. "We need to be respected and make a good salary and lead a better life, you know, to be with our families."

Houston janitors protest for a $15 minimum wage near City Hall on May 18, 2022.
Houston’s contract janitors marched through downtown Houston on May 18, 2022 to push for a $15 minimum wage.

Organizers at Wednesday’s demonstration acknowledged that the desired pay bump was not only adherent to the private companies that hired the contract janitors, but also the building owners who bring in those private companies to handle janitorial services.

According to SEIU Texas, raising the wage to $15 an hour for unionized janitorial workers would cost one penny a month per square foot for building owners — a fraction of the $37.98 per square foot many tenants pay now.

Last year, Houston City Council raised the minimum wage for all municipal employees — including janitors — to $15 an hour. Additionally, Mayor Sylvester Turner in February signed an executive order to raise the hourly wage for Houston airport workers to $15 by October 2023.

In a tweet Wednesday night, Turner wrote that “janitors in the private sector in Houston should be paid no less.”

Also in attendance on Wednesday was Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke, who said the problem would be solved if the statewide minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 an hour, was raised to $15.

If contract negotiations fail at the end of the month, the union’s bargaining committee would likely organize a strike for Houston’s contract janitors. Many workers, like Meyworkl Perez, said they were ready.

"We are ready to go to the streets and say that we need (this)," Perez said. "They already got $15 in the airport. We can get it too because we are janitors as well, we do the same job so it’s no difference. Houston needs to pay more salaries for janitors because it’s very tough work."