Monday, November 28, 2005
SEIU Organizing The South
One of the reasons why organizing people in the service industries is so important is the fact that the service industries, by their very nature, are a lot harder to outsource overseas than are manufacturing jobs. Which is why it's very good news that the SEIU is making good steps in organizing the South, the traditional homeland of anti-labor practices:
Union organizers have obtained what they say is majority support in one of the biggest unionization drives in the South in decades, collecting the signatures of thousands of Houston janitors. Skip to next paragraph Michael Stravato for The New York Times Ercilia Sandoval, top, with her daughters Jennifer, 4, and Genesis, 7, and Flora Aguilar say they struggle to make ends meet as office cleaners in Houston. Janitors in the city typically earn $5.25 an hour. In an era when unions typically face frustration and failure in attracting workers in the private sector, the Service Employees International Union is bringing in 5,000 janitors from several companies at once. With work force experts saying that unions face a slow death unless they can figure out how to organize private-sector workers in big bunches, labor leaders are looking to the Houston campaign as a model. The service employees, which led a breakaway of four unions from the A.F.L.-C.I.O. last summer, has used several unusual tactics in Houston, among them lining up the support of religious leaders, pension funds and the city's mayor, Bill White, a Democrat. Making the effort even more unusual has been the union's success in a state that has long been hostile to labor. "It's the largest unionization campaign in the South in years," said Julius Getman, a labor law professor at the University of Texas. "Other unions will say, 'Yes, it can be done here.' "Make no mistake, the SEIU has a tough job ahead of it. But it's already done better than its predecessors in the South:
In recent days, the union has collected cards signed by about three-fifths of the workers at four of Houston's biggest janitorial companies. An agreement signed in August calls for the American Arbitration Association to inspect the cards and certify when the union has received majority support. The janitorial companies have promised to recognize the union once that happens. Even if the union is recognized, it still faces a big obstacle in negotiating a contract that delivers some of the hoped-for improvements in wages and benefits. Yet the union's Texas achievement stands in stark contrast to the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s failed drive in the early 1980's, which sought to recruit tens of thousands of Houston workers. Known as the Houston Organizing Project, that $1-million-a-year effort faltered along with the economy, as unions retreated and focused on holding onto the workers they had, and as Texas companies fought hard against unionizing.Go get 'em, SEIU!
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