Workers Renew Effort to Fight Poverty; Focus on Halting Wage Theft
Thousands of workers participated in rallies and marches across California in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of “Justice for Janitors Day,” with 30 cities across the country holding commemorative actions. In Los Angeles, Orange County, Santa Clara, Sacramento and San Diego janitors, workers and community allies marked the occasion by mobilizing for a new fight:curbing wage theft that steals the American Dream from workers in low-wage jobs.
“Today we renew our commitment for justice, dignity, and equality, just like when we did 25 years ago when we were attacked by the police as we marched peacefully through the streets of Century City,” said Evangelina Lopez, a janitor who was at the protest in 1990.
Workers also expressed their solidarity with the community of Charleston as they grieve the fallen victims of a senseless shooting spree at the oldest AME church in the south.
“The church is a very important symbol for all of us because it has a long tradition of resistance against racism and oppression,” said Kawana Anderson, a security officer member of SEIU-USWW. “Martin Luther King Jr. gave his speech on voting rights and making the American Dream a reality at that AME church. Today we stand as one family in solidarity.”
Workers also talked about tackling wage theft – the widespread practice by which unscrupulous employers undercut wages by paying workers for fewer hours than they actually work, pay less than the minimum wage, refuse to pay overtime as required by law, or misclassify workers as contractors. Although federal, state and local laws prohibit such abuses, enforcement of critical labor laws lacks teeth, and few workers are able to recover any of their back pay even with a court ordered judgment in their favor.
In Los Angeles, janitors and other workers in low-wage industries led the fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage with a new city bureau dedicated to enforcement of the law. Workers have also succeeded in securing tougher enforcement of wage laws in Santa Clara County, and SB 588 (De León), The Fair Day’s Pay Act, is now being considered in the State Assembly.
About Justice for Janitors Day
On June 15, 1990 a peaceful protest of mostly immigrant janitors in Los Angeles, took a quick turn when police officers confronted marchers striking them with batons. The confrontation led to more than three-dozen marchers being injured. That event garnered international sympathy and support for the janitor’s movement, and ultimately became a flashpoint for one of the most successful low-wage worker campaigns in recent history.
Since 1990, the Justice for Janitors movement has organized more than 133,000 janitors – bringing higher wages, benefits and standards to these workers, and providing families the ability to buy homes, pay for doctor’s visits, and save for college and retirement. Their victories and strategies paved the way to organize thousands more in new industries such as security and airports.
Janitors are now in the midst of the largest private-sector collective bargaining fight in the United States. More than 130,000 janitors, in 33 cities, will bargain contracts over the next two years, directly affecting the lives of nearly half a million men, women, and children.
The 25th anniversary of Justice for Janitors day falls at a time when a full 42% of the American workforce is still paid less than $15/hr, and the call for “$15 and a union” is louder than ever. The Justice for Janitors movement has proven that workers can win in tough economic times, which is why they have joined the Fight for 15 are fighting alongside airport workers, security officer, homecare workers, adjunct professors, and fast food workers.