Striking Houston janitors on Tuesday traveled to six cities where they will set up picket lines at work sites where their employers have cleaning contracts. Members of SEIU who work at the picketed work sites have said that they will not cross the picket lines.
The cities affected are Washington DC, Minneapolis, Seattle, Boston, San Ramon, California, and Oakland. On Thursday pickets from Houston will arrive in Denver and Los Angeles.
The Houston janitors, members of SEIU Local 1, are seeking a pay increase from the current $8.35 an hour to $10 an hour.
The cleaning contractors have argued that they can’t afford the increase because of pressure to keep costs down from the large corporations who own the buildings that the contractors’ workers clean.
This argument suggests that the contractors are small businesses working on small profit margins. But of the seven contractors being struck, Aztec, GCA, Eurest, ISS, and Prichard, ABM, and UBM only one, Aztec, even remotely resembles a small business. The others are large corporations with ties to wealthy investors.
Aztec is a private company based in Houston, but it has cleaning contracts all over the US including ones in Oklahoma, Colorado, Louisiana, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and New Jersey.
ISS is part of the ISS Group, headquartered in Copenhagen. The ISS Group provides an array of services including cleaning, facilities management, and security to a worldwide clientele.
It is owned by two private equity firms, Goldman Sachs Capital Partners and EQT partners.
It operates in more than 60 countries and has 530,000 employees. In 2011, it reported revenues of $10.4 billion euros (about $12.8 billion).
Eurest Services is a member of Compass Group LLC, another multi-national service company that operates in 50 countries and employs 386,000 people. Compass, which recently took over custodial, landscaping, and food services at Texas A&M, is headquartered in London and last year reported revenues of 15.8 billion pounds ($19.38 billion) and profits of 958 million pounds ($1.2 billion).
GCA Services is a private corporation headquartered in Cleveland. It was founded in 2003 and since then has gobbled up local cleaning companies to expand its market share. In 2004, it bought ABS of Houston which at the time was one of the largest facility management firms in the nation. Since then it has acquired nine other companies.
GCA has benefited from public sector budget constraints that have led to a spate of privatization. It recently was awarded a contract to clean schools in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. GCA has said it will rehire the former North Kingstown school janitors laid off as a result of the privatization, but janitors expressed concern that they would lose their comprehensive health care plan because Compass offers only a limited benefits plan.
They’re also worried that their jobs will be converted to part-time temporary jobs. When GCA tried to win a privatization contract to clean schools in New Haven, Connecticut, the proposal it submitted would have saved the school board money by reducing janitor wages and converting 186 full-time jobs to temporary, part-time jobs.
GCA’s private equity partners include Nautic Partners, LLC and Meridian Venture Partners II, LP.
Prichard, one of the US’s leading building maintenance contractors, is also a private corporation. It describes itself as the largest privately held building services company in the US.
Earlier this year, SEIU announced that Prichard finally agreed to pay Chicago janitors $400,000 in unpaid vacation pay.