Some 23 years ago somewhere in the heart of Century City in Los Angeles, a new labor movement was born.
But unlike most movements, this one was special in that it began by and has been sustained by working class, immigrant workers.
And like most movements that are born out of injustice, the Justice for Janitors campaign swept through Orange County and the region.
Today, Orange County is lucky to have among its workforce members of Service Employees International Union’s United Service Workers West, a union that represents over 1,500 janitors in our community.
We know who they are, because we’ve seen them chanting and banging drums outside corporate buildings, and we know what they stand for, because we’ve read their picket signs asking for respect, a dignified wage and health coverage for their families.
Unfortunately, for the past six weeks, bargaining committee representatives keep reporting back to their membership that negotiations have not advanced.
Building owners and their contractors have remained steadfast in their proposal to freeze wages for six years and an across-the-board cut to their health benefits.
This is why these past couple of weeks we have seen janitors take to the streets in protest against the 1 percent — corporate owners who are trying to undo the years of progress janitors have made in securing a dignified contract that will provide for them and their families.
As the representative of the Orange County Labor Federation, I call on those building owners whose facilities these workers clean every day to start treating then with dignity and respect.
They are hard-working men and women who want to provide a better life for their families. They too want their children to attend the best schools and earn a university degree. They too want that piece of mind that if any loved one gets sick, they will be cared for by the best doctors. They too want their families to prosper.
It is because of their hard work and that of our own membership that corporations have prospered to the tune of $2 trillion, money U.S. corporations are sitting on and refuse to reinvest in our communities.
April 27th will be a key date for Orange County. If no agreement is reached, janitors are going to go on strike this May 1st.
But they won’t be alone.
Today, the OC Labor Federation will be pledging our support should they go on strike.
In addition to daily actions at different buildings, owners can expect a disruption in services provided by union groups who pledged not to cross the picket line. We stand by our janitors.
We are the 99%. And together we will stand up to the 1%.
And so I am calling on our building owners in Orange County to work with the janitors in reaching a contract that provides workers with a modest wage increase, protects workers from workload excess, respects our immigrant workers, provides coverage for their families and recognizes their many years of service.
On my end, I won’t be crossing any picket lines on May 1st nor will the 150,000 members of the Orange County Labor Federation.
Tefere Gebre is a Voice of OC Community Editorial Board member and executive director of the Orange County Labor Federation.