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News :: Globalization : Human Rights : Labor : Organizing
Burlington Janitors Fast for Workers Rights
27 Sep 2006
Burlington, Mass. — Several janitors began a 5-day fast on Monday to show awareness on worker rights violations by three cleaning contractors, Resource One and Jani-Solutions, hired by real state development agency Gutierrez Co., and American Housekeeping, hired by one of its tenants. Every day of this week the group of fasters, monitored by a team of nurses, will be sitting on Wall and Cambridge Streets and are planning to hold a prayer vigil on Thursday.
“We are asking for justice for our fellow janitors for fair wages, health benefits, vacation and holiday pay, all of which they don’t currently have,” said one of the fasters Aminta Girón. “What we want is respect and justice for them. They pay taxes like everyone else.”

The protesters decided to hold the 5-day fast after earlier marches and flyering tactics delivered few results. With the support of members of the Burlington community, the clergy, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 615, and other supporters, they hope to move chief managers at Gutierrez Co. to demand their tenants and cleaning contractors to improve working conditions for the janitors that work on Gutierrez property.

Claire Gilbert, a SEIU lead organizer, explained that the janitors are paid wages as low as $9.00 and are required to work part-time with no healthcare nor worker benefits. Ana Maria Fernandez, mother of three, said her wages did not reach $700.00 a month and was eventually fired together with three other female workers for trying to raise complaints about the poor working environment. American Housekeeping claims the women were fired for showing up late to work.

“People don’t have a say in that building,” said Ana Maria Fernandez, “They are scared of losing their jobs and too scared even to talk at meetings.”

The four women joined forces when experiencing sexual harrasment by one of their supervisors and have filed a suit against American Housekeeping. Ana Maria Fernandez tells how their supervisor would touch them inappropriately on the job, come behind their backs while they were cleaning and lean against them, and even undressed once in the presence of one of the women.

One of the plaintiffs, Flor Arached, has also filed a worker’s compensation claim after injuring her back for lifting heavy items into the trash but so far American Housekeeping has refused to pay.

David Potenza, director of property management at Gutierrez Co., said that it is not against the law to hire non-union contractors and added that Gutierrez Co. does not have a contract directly with American Housekeeping: one of its tenants, Nokia, does. Gutierrez Co. does hold contracts with Resource One and Jani Solutions, which could be voided with a 30-day notice.

“Being told who to hire is un-American,” said Potenza and added that the janitors under Gutierrez Co. cleaning contractors are not interested in joining SEIU. “I think the union needs to let the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and the National Labor Relations Board do their jobs,” he said in regards to the investigations being carried out against American Housekeeping.

“Gutierrez Co. has the choice of who he leases property to and what kind of restrictions he can place on those leases,” said Anna Mumford, SEIU organizer. “There is a moral responsibility if you know some things are going on in your building.”

SEUI’s Web site carries a list of 57 “responsible employers,” cleaning companies in Massachusetts that offer their services with full benefits for their workers. They hope to challenge businesses to hire responsible contractors that follow area wage and benefit standards.

Bedardo Sola, a Harvard University janitor, who is fasting in support of the janitors at Gutierrez properties, talked about how workers rights has been a continuous struggle for him. In El Salvador, his country of origin, he worked for garment factories, maquiladoras for Nike, Insinca and Adoc, for as little as $5.00 per day without benefits regardless of how many hours he worked daily.

“When I moved to this country I found some of the same injustice and explotation that I had lived in my country,” said Sola. In California he struggled to make ends meet and sustain his family in El Salvador with minimum wage jobs and no benefits with construction and cleaning companies. In Cambridge, he joined other Harvard janitors in their struggle for a living wage. Today he finally earns $14.50 an hour for an 8-hour working day and full benefits.

“I want these irresponsible companies to realize that in the same way that I’m experiencing these few days of hunger, my fellow workers in Burlington are experiecing hunger daily with the meager salaries they receive,” said Sola. “We demand respect for the janitor’s dignity.”

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A SOLID STRIKE is what is needed! To hell with these reformist pressure tactics!
27 Sep 2006
Why are these union bureaucrats trying to starve their own members?

They will never understand that the union will not get stronger by begging and posing for "sympathy" from the public and the bourgeois press. The broader layers of poor and oppressed people will sympathize with the union WHEN IT IS STRONG.

Throw out the labor bureaucrats, betrayers of the workers! Labor must take the road of class struggle!
See also:
frustrating and infuriating comments
28 Sep 2006
Comments like the one above are frustrating and infuriating, but an example of the larger problem on the left in general, and saddly many left BIMC comments.

Fred, are you one of the janitors working for Resource One, Jani-Solutions or American Housekeeping? Are you afraid of loosing your job with them and not being able to feed your family? Are you a member of any of the organizations mentioned above? Than try a little solidarity and human understanding.

I’m realy tired of so-called radicals condemning struggling people for “reformist" behavior. This is “I’m more radical and revolutionary than you” nonsense.

Reform is only reformist if once you win you stop fighting for more. If once you win your gain you keep demanding more, its not reformist, it’s a trajectory of change. The goal is radical; the steps are small gains for everyday people, each one hopefully in the direction of systemic change.

Higher wages are reforms, better safety at work is a reform, healthcare is a reform, ending the war is a reform and you are not against those things are you?

I would suggest looking up the meaning of the word solidarity, it means supporting people’s struggles and the tactics they feel work best for them at the moment. It does not mean screaming about how things are not being done in the way your personal theory dictates. Yes, there are some serious issues with the unions in the nation. But if you have suggestions, try acting like a human being first and standing in solidarity with these folks first, build trust, act like you care on a human level what happens to their lives, instead of pushing your theoretical dogma.
Effective solidarity requires a class perspective
28 Sep 2006
Modified: 11:25:15 AM
Well Johnny's "infuriated"! Like I haven't seen the stupid piggish rage of a scorned union bureaucrat before! Just this past Labor Day in Providence, RI, we with Working Class Emancipation were at the march with members of the very same SEIU local 615. We were handing out placards in English and Spanish that said "Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants", "Drive US Imperialism Out of the Middle East", "Free Abortions On Demand, For Womens Liberation through Socialist Revolution", and "No Votes for Democrats, Greens, or Republicans, the parties of capitalism! Build a workers' party!" 615 members would pick them out, and then thugs on the pay of SEIU (or the Democratic Party, it was hard to tell which) would take them out of their hands and tell them they were only allowed to carry the official union signs, which had ridiculous utopian/reformist slogans. They even told one of our supporters, a Colombian socialist who they didn't know was working with us, that Working Class Emancipation was "with the Minutemen"! So your bullshit response is rather mild, I must say, you'll have to try harder to shut us up!

You act like the 615 members in Burlington "chose" to starve outside a boss's office in the hopes that he would have a change of heart and be a "responsible" capitalist who pays a few cents more an hour. Bullshit. This is a tactic that 615 and the other SEIU locals have been imposing on the workers from the top down. They did the same thing last spring in Providence, RI.

And no, I'm not a janitor. But I am a worker who has seen enough of class-collaborationist union bureaucrats stabbing workers in the back. And so I'm sorry it's so infuriating to you, but I don't consider it to be "solidarity" to shut off your brain and parrot whatever the union bureaucrats say, right or wrong. The only way we are going to end the war, gain health care for everyone, etc. is for the power of the working class to be unchained from its class enemy, the Bosses and their party, the Democrats. The union bureaucrats are that chain. Throw them out of the unions! Only a revolutionary leadership can bring lasting victories to the workers!
See also:
01 Oct 2006
actually fred you're wrong with this one...

I don't know about Providence or other areas, but this hunger strike was decided upon and carried out by the workers themselves. It wasn't suggested, offered as an option, let alone imposed by SEIU. It was a completely autonomous, independent decision. SEIU just decided to step in and back them up afterwards...

And get over your sense of self-importance and all this bullshit about how your leadership is going to lead the working class towards liberation through some vangaurd party! My ass! The only folks who will liberate the working class are the working class ourselves! So fuck off and quit trying to co-opt our struggle so your party can be in power!