UNIONIZING THE JANITORS….Still catching up a bit: Nathan Newman reminds me to link to this excellent article by Harold Meyerson in The American Prospect about the successful unionization of janitors over the past couple of decades:
The SEIU had begun as a union of janitors, but in one city after another, building owners were firing their unionized workers and hiring immigrant workers just arrived from Mexico and Central America. The SEIU was already established as the major public employee union in California, and the better part of valor would have been to build its public-sector membership (which it’s done anyway) and forget the janitors.
Instead, it built the “Justice for Janitors” movement, employing hundreds of organizers, cultivating public sympathy, applying political leverage and mobilizing a raucous rank-and-file whose bells-and-whistles demonstrations are now a regular feature in many American cities. The union’s janitorial membership swelled to more than 200,000, and this spring, janitors in Chicago got employers to pay more for expanded family coverage; janitors in Orange County, Calif., got employers to pay for family coverage for the first time; and janitors in Boston and Washington got employers to begin to pay for part-timers’ health coverage too. “Union density trumped a bad economy,” says Stephen Lerner, who heads the SEIU’s building services division. It has also given the janitors more leverage when organizing in new cities.
This is exactly what unions should be doing: organizing low-paid employees and bargaining to get them higher pay and benefits. The union movement of the first half of the 20th century did this and was tremendously successful at creating a thriving middle class, expanding the economy, and creating better working conditions for millions, and that’s exactly what they should be doing today too.
But how? Well, a couple of posts down I suggested that we were all still fighting the battles of 30 years ago, so why not go whole hog and refight the battles of 50 years ago? Anyone up for a fight to repeal the Taft-Hartley Act?