Thursday, November 09, 2006

In Janitors' Own Words: Ercilia Sandoval

If you don't watch another one of these, please watch this one.

Democrats, that promise about decent health care for all? Move that up the agenda.

And, the janitors are not backing down, it seems.

Striking janitors pushed rolling trash bins, mop buckets and brooms during a rally through downtown during the evening rush hour Monday to protest what they believe are unfair terminations and harassment by the city's five largest cleaning companies.

The 450 janitors broke up into small groups and carried plastic bags containing copies of the 35 unfair labor practice charges that the Service Employees International Union has filed with the National Labor Relations Board this fall.

Wednesday: Hundreds of members of "Justice for Janitors" allied in front of Houston police headquarters tonight.
They gathered to protest the arrest of a striking janitor earlier in the day.

Two union protesters posing as luncheon guests disrupted a speech by Shell Oil Co.'s president on Wednesday.

The protesters, both with the Service Employees International Union, jumped up during John Hofmeister's speech and lectured him on the low wages janitors are paid to clean Shell's office buildings.

Solidarity: Tonight, Houston picket lines will be set up outside a dozen major office buildings in Manhattan, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In all, hundreds of SEIU janitors in those cities are expected to honor the picket lines of their striking Houston co-workers who work for the same national cleaning companies. Details are available from SEIU local unions in those cities.
**Next week, dozens of SEIU janitors and union leaders from around the country will travel to Houston to call on national commercial landlords there to put an end to the poverty conditions and poor treatment of Houston workers. The delegations are planning to engage in non-violent acts of civil disobedience next week in Houston and could face arrest for their actions. Details about the actions will be announced next week.
**Next Wednesday, November 15 is a nationwide Chevron Day of Action. Workers and community supporters will hold actions outside Chevron or Texaco gas stations in 20 cities -- one for every dollar that Houston janitors who clean Chevron buildings are paid each day for scrubbing floors and cleaning toilets. Despite $14 billion in profits last year, Chevron is refusing to use its power to settle the strike and direct the cleaning firms in its office buildings to provide janitors with fair wages and health insurance. More info at "The support we are getting from workers outside of Houston is giving us so much strength," said Flora Aguilar, a striking Houston janitor who is setting up picket lines in New York this week. For cleaning 60 offices in four hours every weekday night, Aguilar is paid just $5.25/hour with no health insurance or other benefits. "We are committed to struggling as long as it is necessary for us to secure a better future for our families."


Arch City Expatriate said...

I feel their plight. I think it's a crying shame what they are getting paid. They are being used big time.

To bring attention to the abuse, I am all for anarchy as demonstrated on the streets of Houston in recent days.

However, I can't help but believe that this is the kind of abuse that happens when people come here illegally. They get used big time. Not that the actions of the abusers are okay - certainly not - but these people are helping themselves to be manipulated by these users.

Granted I don't know the citizenship status of all of the janitors, it is likely many of them are illegal residents, which leaves them wide open for abuse.

At the risk of sounding insensitive, I also can't help but wonder what kind of medical attention Ercilia would get in her home country? Should she be given treatment for her life threatening illness? Certainly. Her situation is dire.

But we legal and naturalized Americans should not be flipping the medical bills for illegal citizens regardless of where they come from.

elle said...


in preparing to write this damned dissertation (that's how i'm referring to it now, btw), i've learned some important things about undocumented immigration: 1) americans want to have our cake and eat it to, meaning we think we can open up this continent and the world to a trade market "without borders" but then keep the labor market segregated along national lines. that is wholly unrealistic and indicative of another problem: we refuse to see and own the problems american economic policies create in other places and for other people.

2) the american government and american corporations have been involved in bringing immigrants here when we needed or desired their labor, but then pretending to take the considerations of citizens who are concerned about immigration seriously. this country is founded on the exploitaiton of (forced and unforced)immigrant labor--from slavery, to meatpacking, to steel works, to the bracero program, to various amnesty programs and on and on and on. it's pretty much been a bring 'em when we need 'em, fuck 'em when we don't. you can't treat people like that.

3) industries, especially southern industries (and the south is where Latino immigration has grown explosively in the last fifteen years) are going to do whatever it takes to keep a workforce perceived as docile and hard-working. period. immigrants are that newest group, which leads me to point four:

4) working class people and PoC should be especially careful of the discourse/rhetoric surrounding immigration. i don't think it's a coincidence that anti-immigrant sentiment is especially high now that Latino immigrants have made their way to the previously isolated, understood-in-terms-of-white-and-black South. and if working class people would learn, for more than brief episodes, to see their labor struggles in terms of class as well as in terms of race/ethnicity/nationality, maybe we could kick some capitalist ass. as long as there is one group that can be used against another b/c of intra-group conflicts and lack of solidarity, we're in trouble.

But we legal and naturalized Americans should not be flipping the medical bills for illegal citizens regardless of where they come from.

I have to reference and old co-worker on this one. At a previous job, we were standing around one day listening to a co-worker complain about taxes. "Y'all don't care?" he asked. Another one of my co-workers said, "As long as one baby gets food or clothes because of my taxes, I am happy. I don't care about paying them."

That's pretty much how I feel. Which may not make fiscal or economic sense and no, I don't want my whole check to go to taxes, but I think any decent country should have a decent system of social provision--one that's not racialized and stigmatized and hated by those in need and those who fund it. I mean, if someone comes to this country, dying, because s/he feels like s/he could get help here, then I hope nationalism doesn't supercede humanity.

And keep in my mind, most immigrants come here to work. The only immigrants who tend to be disproportionately represented in social service programs are refugees and the elderly. Undocumented immigrants pay taxes into a social security system from which they are ineligible to receive benefits. Hell, since 1996, what can they get besides emergency Medicaid? No food stamps, no TANF, no regular Medicaid, no unemployment insurance, no child care assistance...

Anonymous said...

That's my girl!

Anonymous said...

grrr, people like this piss me off. go elle!

i would add to the part about "paying medical bills for those illegals" that the amount of money that undocumented workers pay into the system, and the amount they utilize through everything, not just medical care, there is net gain. so actually, they are not costing terrance and me and you anything.

(i felt i needed to add this because so many people do not care about the "human" side to immigration. I mean to insinuate that since someone might get worse care in their home country than here, we should have two standards of care based on nationality, or as what underlies his statment, race.)

Arch City Expatriate said...

I had written a big (very long) well written response to replies to comments here. Fortunately, for you guys (ha-ha) a storm came through Houston, shorted my power and I lost all of my response.

Although I am livid, I will get over it. In the meantime, I will say this:

1. There is a difference between illegal vs. legal immigrants. If a person is against illegal immigration - they are not anti-immigrant.

2. Ercilia should get medical treatment for her cancer since she is here. As taxpayers, we should help her and others in dire medical situations. However, there is a limit to everything. That is why there was welfare reform. I am all for helping, but there is a limit.

3. Regardless if an illegal immigrant is getting benefits or not, they should not be here illegally whether they are African, European, Haitian, Canadian, Mexican, Colombian, Australian etc.

4. Whether the government or corporations are manipulating policies and laws - there are still laws on the books against illegal immigration.

5. I watched Adelante Chicago (a Latino-focused program) and ICE deported a Czech, a Ghanian, and three Latinos who were here illegally. The Ghanian had come here on an illegal French passport. The Czech was a gangbanger and a criminal. Should they be allowed to stay here? Granted most illegal immigrants don't commit crimes continuously, they committed their first crime when they came here illegally. I am talking about ALL illegals regardless of race, creed, color, gender, nationality, sexuality, etc.

4. Do the right thing. Come here legally. Even legal immigrants from south of the border agree.

Elle, I appreciate your passion and information. justme, nothing I said was about race or nationality.

Read my opinion about illegal immigration.

The Illegal Immigration Debate

[My initial response was longer and more thorough.]

elle said...


(ok, catching up after a whirlwind friday). i read your post (thanks for the link). let me say, that i do not believe the ideal way for anyone to come here is "illegally," but one of my major contentions is that they come, not solely for the push factors from home, but because something in america (and it's not just the promise of social services) is exerting a real pull. like corporations who recruit them, and agriculture who relies on them, etc. so why don't we take these entities to task?

and, i do not mean to seem insensitive to the poorest workers who perceive a very real conflict w/immigrants and who feel displaced in their homes, neighborhoods, and schools.

but we can't talk about limiting immigration without talking about changing our trade policies and our industries' behavior. i never hear much about change on a broad level like that. what i hear is a bunch of plans directed solely at immigrants and not the pull factors that bring them here. that results in a vilification of people.

i'd like to see it addressed, but from the perspective of strengthening people's civil rights and status as workers. and i'd like to see people build connections and not be pitted as one disadvantaged group against another. because, while blacks and Latino-Americans are arguing with Latino immigrants, corporations are getting off scott free.

it's all cast as intra- and inter-ethnic conflict. who is looking at the fact that 1) said conflicts are occuring within a framework of white supremacy and 2) the biggest beneficiaries of poor people's labor are the owners of capital--largely white men? let's examine their role, too.

hope you're not so livid anymore; that was never my intent. :(

brownfemipower said...

elle--you bring up a great point--why is immigration dealt with by criminalizing the worker? WHy don't those who hate illegal immigration work to end NAFTA and support stronger unions and begin reaching out to workers across the borders? There are sooo many ways to eliminate illegal immigration, why is the way that the u.s. and those in the u.s who hate illegal immigration chose to deal with it through the criminalization of workers and through violence against the bodily integrity of other human beings? and why is the crime of an illegal immigrant some how more potent or harmful than the crime of a citizen? Or of a mega corporation? And why would it be wrong or detrimental to u.s. citizens to increase the power and strength of a union by supporting *everybody's* right to unionize in the u.s.--every single worker in the u.s. should have the right to union protection--it would only stregnthen u.s. citizen worker rights if the most marginalized workers have the right to unionize.

people can't say it's not about race when there are so many ways to confront immigration in ways that have nothing to do with targetting of brown people and people refuse to use those alternative ways. and frankly whenever somebody starts in with "illegals are criminals"--those are code words to me that people have a real problem with brown people--try googling illegal immigrant and criminal some time--there are whole websites devoted to tracking and monitoring every single "crime" ever comitted by any non-citizen. these sites are then used by hate groups like minute men to justify using guns and horses to hunt down those people who are crossing and use their vigilanti justice on them.

again, i think there are just SOOOO many ways we can and should go about confronting immigration--so many ways that mexicans themselves are working on, like organizing to eliminate NAFTA--that the *only* reason i can see that u.s. citizens aren't working on ending NAFTA too is that they are too hung up on hating mexicans to actually do any meaningful work in the area. There are people who are vicious in their hate of mexicans, but they are confronting that hate by making coalitions to eliminate NAFTA--I think it was pat buchanan and jesse jackson who formed the halloween coalition that worked together to eliminate NAFTA.

anyway--thanks for this post elle--i've definitly been keeping up with the movement through your site, thanks for updating and keeping us informed.

Arch City Expatriate said...

Oh no, Elle. I was actually "livid" that I had lost my long more detailed response that initially addressed each of your earlier points. My response was lost when my power went off during the storm last Friday night. My "livid" comment was not directed to you by any means.

Also, I agree, the illegal immigration issue is a mess. The corporations, farmers, big business (Tyson, Swift, Hormel, etc.) are the culprits. But keep in mind that my comments and opinions are about all illegal immigrants - regardless of origin. I don't think anyone should be in this country illegal regardless of what is "pulling" them. Corporations and should not be hiring them without proper documentation. Enough of the excuses.

Also, I had written in my lost comment that corporations should be held accountable. I believe they should be penalized for hiring illegal immigrants. Like you said, it is about the wealthy and their influence. I am not oblivious to this fact.

But either way, all (illegals, corporations, businesses) involved are culprits including the U.S. government, which has been passive on the issue. It's all wrong. But none of it excuses illegal immigration, when laws are on the books against it.

I have been suggesting all along that abuse by corporations and businesses does need to be addressed by our government. I am ecstatic when businesses are fined hefty penalties for abuse. There needs to be more done other than symbolic gestures.

I just don't by into the excuse making by people who advocate for illegal immigrants. I don't care the color of the skin or nationality either. You come here illegally - whether they are brown, black, white, yellow, green or gold - you must leave and re-enter the proper way. People have to take responsibility for their actions. There are not too many places on the globe where I could go and enter (and/or stay) illegally.

There may be a "pull" for me to go and live on the French Riviera, but that doesn't mean I go there and live illegally.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...