According to a PRNewswire release, the first wave of an historic strike that could escalate strategically in the coming days began today as hundreds of local janitors put down their brooms and picked up picket signs to defend their civil rights and to protest the failure to bargain in good faith by five large national cleaning companies. The companies have responded to the janitors' efforts to lift themselves out of poverty and achieve the American Dream by refusing to negotiate and committing civil rights abuses against workers speaking out for improvements. At stake are the living standards of more than 5,300 Houston workers and their families, who currently are paid just $20 a day, with no health insurance for almost exclusively part-time work.

"The decision to strike is not made easily, but we have no other choice if we want to be heard," says Flora Aguilar, a janitor with OneSource who cleans offices owned by Hines Interests. "We have to make a stand -- for our families and all families in Houston. No one should have to live on $20 a day."

Janitors who work the night shift at prominent downtown buildings including the CenterPoint Energy, Wells Fargo Plaza/Dynegy, and 1100 Louisiana buildings, walked off the job and joined their co-workers at 1100 Louisiana before marching to "strike boot camp" where they would break into teams to review skills and procedures they will use during the strike. The first wave of the strike will affect the majority of Houston's downtown office space.

As the strike expands, it could spread to other parts of Houston as well as to other cities. Union janitors in other cities who work for the same national cleaning companies in buildings owned by the same national office landlords, have pledged to do whatever it takes to help Houston janitors win a fair contract, including honoring the picket lines of Houston janitors. Last week, union janitors from other cities contributed $1 million to the Houston janitors' growing strike fund.

In other cities across the country, including Miami earlier this year, Boston in 2002, and Los Angeles and Chicago in 2000, janitors and their allies have led strike-related activities including massive public marches in public parks and down sidewalks and city streets, picket lines outside major office buildings, prayer vigils, hunger fasts, and other forms of non-violent protest.

Contract talks for more than 5,300 janitors ended last Tuesday with Houston's five largest cleaning companies refusing after months of negotiations to propose even modest pay and benefit improvements to janitors currently making only $20 a day. Since forming a union with SEIU last year, the janitors have been seeking a raise to $8.50/hour, more hours, and health insurance in contract talks with the city's five largest cleaning companies, ABM, OneSource, GCA, Sanitors, and Pritchard. In addition, the cleaning companies and Houston's largest commercial landlord Hines Interests are facing investigations by the federal labor board over more than 20 charges they illegally fired and intimidated janitors who have been involved in supporting their union.

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