Quick Hit Michael Sandler Thursday August 2nd, 2012, 1:12pm

Chicago Janitors Protest In Solidarity With Their Houston Counterparts (VIDEO)

As part of a nationwide show of support for striking Houston janitors, members of Chicago’s SEIU Local 1 protested in front of the JP Morgan Chase building on Wednesday afternoon.

The janitors in Houston have been on strike for almost four weeks, citing unfair labor practices by cleaning contractors employed by JP Morgan Chase and other Houston building owners. The contractors pay the Houston janitors as little as $9,000 a year, which is less than half of the poverty line for a family of three, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Protests at JP Morgan Chase and other business buildings occurred in cities such as Detroit, St. Louis, Boston, Denver and Los Angeles.

Chicago protestor Ewa Miklewicz, an SEIU Local 1 member since 1979 and a janitor in the office building located at 230 W. Monroe St., said the SEIU members rallied to support their “brothers and sisters” who are fighting in Houston. “They’re on strike right now because employers there offer them $9,000 a year,” Miklewicz told Progress Illinois. “How can you make a living, how can you think about putting food on the table, or even pay your bills?”

She said JP Morgan Chase could make some changes to help the Houston janitors, if they so choose. “We’re here to tell them that we expect them to do so,” Miklewicz said. She said she hopes JP Morgan will step in and help the janitors receive more money, so they can go back to work. A spokesman from the Houston Contractors Association, which is handling negotiations between the janitors and contractors, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Robert Pawlaszek, an elite representative at SEIU Local 1, said the Chicago protestors were determined to show loyalty to their Houston counterparts and would do whatever it takes to help find a resolution. “We’re not being unreasonable, and we’re not going to give up until it’s settled,” said Pawlaszek.

Here's more from the rally:

Wednesday’s SEIU rally in Chicago was peaceful; the group chanted and Miklewicz gave a speech, but no police officers were present. The same can’t be said for the protests in Houston, where five janitors were arrested Tuesday. The members of the group were known as “Freedom Flyers,” and had flown to Houston to show support. Three of the arrested janitors are from Chicago.

Janitors in Chicago have had their own labor issues recently. In June, 50 city janitors were laid off when their contract expired. A non-union shop was awarded the new contract, and the 50 janitors were not retained.  SEIU Local 1 has demanded city council implement the Responsible Bidders Ordinance, which would place minimum requirements on worker retention, wages and health care benefits.

One member of city council told Progress Illinois he is in favor of the Responsible Bidders Ordinance. Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said the ordinance is a fair deal, as it would guarantee good jobs with good benefits for workers.

“If Chicago is going to become an affordable city, we need to have good jobs for all our citizens,” said Fioretti.

However, the alderman said the janitor wage issue doesn’t resonate with all of his city council colleagues. Fioretti said because of the vast number of issues Chicago aldermen face, including crime and infrastructure, the big picture gets lost. The alderman plans to bring up janitor wages at the next Progressive Caucus meeting.

Yesterday, though, SEIU Local 1 protestors were focused on their counterparts in Houston. Pawlaszek said because of the oil it produces, Texas is rich and affluent, and can afford to pay janitors higher wages. “Houston is the fourth-biggest city in the U.S., behind Chicago, yet the janitors there make less than half of what the janitors in Chicago make,” he said. “That’s not right.”

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