Business

Houston’s contract janitors have reached a tentative agreement in wage negotiations

The workers have pushed for an hourly minimum wage of $15 and an increase in the number of provided sick days and paid leave. 

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Houston janitors protest for a $15 minimum wage near City Hall on May 18, 2022.

Houston's contract janitors have reached a tentative two-year agreement with the city's private janitorial companies, averting the threat of a citywide strike.

The workers have pushed for an hourly minimum wage of $15 and an increase in the number of provided sick days and paid leave. Negotiations began Tuesday just hours before the previous contract expired.

According to SEIU Texas — which represents about 2,800 Houston-area janitors — a majority of workers are on a part-time basis, making as little as $10.75 per hour under the previous contract.

SEIU Texas President Elsa Caballero said the janitors weren’t making a livable wage, but added that the new tentative two-year agreement is an encouraging step in the right direction.

“It was getting even harder and harder to take care of themselves, their families, and just the overall needs that you have on a day-to-day basis,” Caballero said. “And happily, after a record marathon negotiation, we were able to reach a tentative agreement that I think addresses many of their concerns.”

The agreement’s specifics will be made public after union members have an opportunity to ratify the contract on Saturday, Caballero said.

The group has been threatening a strike if contract negotiations fell through. Houston janitors have held two large-scale strikes in previous years — the first in 2006 and the second in 2012. The tentative agreement has averted a potential strike for now.

The precedent for a $15 minimum wage has already been set: 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’s airport workers to $15 by the end of next year.

Caballero said she’s hopeful that the new agreement would be finalized.

“If we don’t make it a point that all work needs to be valued, and all work should be able to pay enough so that you can take care of yourself, then what are we doing?,” Caballero said.

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