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Vol. 76/No. 28      July 30, 2012

On the Picket Line

Houston janitors: ‘We want
better pay and dignity’

HOUSTON—Hundreds of janitors walked off the job July 10 at seven cleaning companies.

“For more than six years I’ve worked for ABM [one of the seven companies] at these buildings putting up with their abuses for a lousy $8.35 per hour—and only six hours per day,” Alfonso Saavedra told the Militant.

ABM did not respond to a request for comments.

The janitors, members of Service Employees International Union Local 1, have been without a contract since May 31. Union officials say the companies have proposed a contract that would raise hourly pay to just $8.85 by 2016. The union is seeking $10 an hour.

Since June 5, janitors have held one-day strikes at locations around the city. Last month, 11 janitors were barred from returning to work after joining the walkouts. According to the union several contractors ended payments to workers’ health insurance plans.

On July 11, NAACP national board member Clayola Brown delivered a donation of $3,255 for the strike collected by participants at the group’s national convention here.

“Every night I clean the plaza floor, 28 elevators, and empty the trash on two floors,” said Salvatore Carrara, 25. “We want dignity and better pay.”

—Steve Warshell

Mass. seafood workers demand
severance, back wages

LAKEVILLE, Mass.—“They let us go like we were trash,” said Brenda Santos, one of 52 workers fired by Kyler Seafood in nearby New Bedford in early May.

Santos was among some 30 protesters at a July 12 vigil here outside the home of Jeff Nanfelt, owner of the seafood processor. The workers left Nanfelt a letter demanding vacation and overtime pay they say they are owed. They also demand one week’s severance pay for each year worked.

“After years of our work they are rich,” said Maria Santos, who like many of those fired is from Guatemala. “But we’re sore from hard work.”

“They exploited us a lot,” said Diego Chivalan, who worked for Kyler Seafood for six years earning minimum wage. “Sometimes they would ask us to work through breaks and then we would never get paid for that extra time.”

The workers were fired as the result of an I-9 immigration audit by Homeland Security immigration authorities. Kyler fired those who did not provide proof of their work status within three days.

In an email response to the Militant, Nanfelt said the workers were paid all wages owed and denied requiring employees to work during breaks. He added that the “52 employees were not fired, according to ICE, their current identification/documentation made them ineligible to work.”

The vigil was organized by the Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores (Workers Community Center) and joined by representatives from the Chinese Progressive Association, Chelsea Collaborative, Jobs with Justice and the Socialist Workers Party.

—Laura Garza

Tomato workers in Calif.
vote for United Farm Workers

MADERA, Calif.—Workers at Gargiulo Inc. in nearby Firebaugh voted July 11, by a margin of 186 to 40, to be represented by the United Farm Workers. Two days earlier 170 workers struck over working conditions and pay and filed a petition for the election.

During an interview here July 13, three workers, then back at work, talked about conditions they face on the farm.

The rows of tomatoes are a mile long and workers are only allowed to use the bathroom after finishing a row, they explained. There are no set breaks. Lunchtime is whenever the lunch truck stops by and the bosses turn off the conveyer belt. After five or 10 minutes they turn it back on. Many workers have to work and eat at the same time.

“A boss told us ‘every year the workers talk about getting the union but nothing happens,’” noted German Carreño, 26, who has been working for Gargiulo since 2003. “We surprised them.”

Gargiulo Inc. did not respond to a request for comment.

Two weeks earlier the UFW signed a three-year contract for 800 tomato workers at Pacific Triple E in Tracy that includes wage increases of 12 to 50 percent.

—Willie Cotton

Related articles:
Thousands rally in NY to back workers locked out by Con Ed
‘No choice but to strike against Caterpillar’
Black lung is on the rise among younger miners
Miners, other workers protest job cuts in Spain
Scranton, Pa., mayor slashes wages to $7.25 an hour  
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