Saturday, November 11, 2006

Campaign Against Houston Janitors

Bet you weren't surprised, the day after Election Day, when you went to the pump to find the price of gas was higher than it was on Tuesday, and higher still on Thursday. Bet you weren't surprised either when reading that Chevron Oil posted a $14 billion profit last year.

But, for the past several days, there is a story that's been missing in action from the mainstream media: the strike, by Houston janitors for higher wages, as well as medical benefits. Yes, Chevron Corporation that boasts record annual earnings, the company that also controls most of Houston's office space, is working overtime to squeeze every last penny out of those who clean its corporate offices in the largest city of the state most often associated with oil barons, indeed the home state of Oil Baron in Chief, and president, Bush.

What are those who clean Chevron's Texas corporate offices demanding? They want higher wages, yes, they want to earn $8.50 an hour, and they want to be eligible for health care benefits. Lynda Tran, a spokesperson for Service Employees International Union, the union that represents the janitors, says that "There's a worker who tells me every night she has to clean 63 toilets, on top of scrubbing floors and wiping down windows and wiping down tables and the desks and that sort of thing...working their fingers to the bone. And they get paid $20 a night." Moreover, t he strike heated up when a union strike organizer was allegedly punched by a manager. (Worker Independent News) But, even more startling is the firing of 14 workers for speaking out against exploitation of the most egregious kind.

Yes, that's right, the cleaning person at Chevron headquarters responsible for cleaning toilets, scrubbing floors, earns a whopping $20 a night for her labor which is probably less than what David J. O'Reilly, Chevron Chair and CEO, gives to a valet as a tip. And, if she dares to walk out, she's risks losing her job.

We have come a long way, baby, and virtually overnight. But, we have not come far enough if we can accept that one of the world's wealthiest corporations, Chevron, can get away with cheating American workers and their families. Ronald Reagan dealt a blow to the air traffic controllers, and to the concept of unions, when he coerced the end to their strike. When Congress next convenes, it is already on their agenda to discuss raising the minimum wage. It might not be a bad idea, too, to consider some kind of legislation to protect workers from job loss for striking, and/or speaking up for their rights.

The Democratic leadership, which purports to have the best interests of the American worker in mind, must now work to reverse the pro-management, anti-union trend which has broken the backs of the American worker, as well as slowly, but surely eroding the civil rights, and equal opportunities, of those who need those protections the most. It is not a question of stronger unions, by any means, but stronger legislation to protect those workers from harassment, and job loss who find it necessary to take the most desperate measure of walking out from unjustifiable termination.

Whether our elected representatives, in Congress, opt to tackle the contemptible practice of robbing from the poor to feed the rich, as best exemplified by the janitor strike against Chevron headquarters, those of us who care about the plight of those janitors in Houston, as well as others who work for oil giant, Chevron, may feel free to express their concerns, as I have, to Mr. O'Reilly at Chevron Corporation, 6001 Bollinger Canyon Road, San Ramon, California 94583.