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<nettime> Tech's Janitors Rally for Wages

Janitors for Justice <>

Tech's Janitors Rally for Wages
by Leander Kahney
4:30 p.m. Apr. 27, 2000 PDT,1294,35790,00.html

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California -- Thousands of Silicon Valley janitors are
poised to begin a strike that could significantly disrupt the region's
technology businesses.

On Thursday afternoon the janitor's union kicked off a "Justice for
Janitors" campaign with a rally through this tony town in the heart of
Silicon Valley.

About 1,000 janitors participated in the rally, during which a handful of
Northern California's top union officials were arrested for blocking El
Camino Real, a main thoroughfare through town.

They were protesting what they consider are janitors' intolerably low wages
in one of the world's richest and most expensive places to live.

"Based on experience, we are going to have to prepare for a strike," said
Mike Garcia, president of the Local 1877, the union local. "The only way to
get justice is to create a crisis in the valley."

Police arrested six of Northern California's top union officials and an
elderly churchman at the rally for blocking the street, an orchestrated act
of civil disobedience intended to bring media attention to the janitor's

The seven were handcuffed and arrested by members of a local Swat team, who
were clad in flak jackets and riot helmets.

A police spokeswoman said the arrestees would be cited with a traffic
violation and released.

The Northern California branch of the Service Employees International
Union, which organized the rally, is preparing to renegotiate a contract
for its 5,500 members with janitorial firms that subcontract to some of the
biggest and richest companies in the valley, including IBM,
Hewlett-Packard, Apple, and Cisco.

The union is asking for a 16 percent increase in wages over the next three
years. On average, Valley janitors are paid $8-9 an hour, which translates
into about $17,000 a year, with no benefits.

The union says the majority of its workers are forced to work at least two
jobs to make a living and cites studies estimating a family of four needs
an income of $53,000 to live above the poverty line in Northern California.

"It makes me angry, it makes me feel we should do everything possible to
fight for economic justice for janitors," one protester said.

The contract between the union and the cleaning contractors, which includes
American Building Maintenance, Able and One Source, expires at the end of

Garcia said the firms had not yet responded to the union's terms, but the
union is prepared to take action if their demands aren't met.

The union last week successfully negotiated a 30 percent wage increase over
three years for Los Angeles janitors after an acrimonious three-week

At the Mountain View rally -- the biggest the sleepy town has seen for
years -- the janitors carried placards estimating how long it would take
the technology companies to pay for the three-year wage increase. According
to the placards, HP could cover the extra costs with two minutes worth of
sales, IBM in 30 seconds.

One speaker at the rally said it would take a janitor 800 years to match
the annual salary of one Valley CEO who made $116 million last year, a
relatively modest sum for a technology executive.

One of the janitors at the rally, Mari Loja, works two cleaning jobs five
days a week to help pay her rent and send her three children through
college in her native Ecuador. Loja makes $8 an hour during her night job
at Cadence, and $6 an hour cleaning offices at Logistix.

Loja shares a two-bedroom apartment in San Jose with four other families.
She lives in one of the bedrooms with her husband, her daughter, and two
teenage cousins. She sleeps only four hours a day in a pair of two-hour

"I'm very, very tired," she said. "I'm extremely exhausted and economically
I'm not doing very well. It's a struggle every day. The money I make one
day, goes that day. I came here to improve my life, to get a better life
economically. But it's hard. I can't improve my life. We're still living in

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