Hundreds of Hispanics cleaning workers in Houston are seeking better pay so that they will not find themselves having to work part-time at other jobs to make ends meet.
Idalia Diaz Canales, a cleaning worker from Honduras, works only six hours a day, the maximum that is allowed for a cleaning worker responsible for cleaning the restrooms of multinational firms.
"I have to push myself a lot here to get my family, who don't live with me, ahead. Right now, I have to share the rent with someone else and so I have another job," Diaz, the mother of two daughters who live in Honduras, told Efe.
Diaz works Monday through Friday and each day on the job cleans three-and-a-half floors of an office building. For the past five years, she has swept, dusted and thrown out the trash, among other activities.
She makes $8.35 per hour and the last time she received a raise was in 2009, when the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, Local 1, to which she and about 3,200 other employees belong, reached an agreement with the companies employing them.
For the past few weeks, SEIU and the cleaning companies have been engaged in negotiating a new labor contract, but they still have not come to an agreement.
They must reach an accord by May 31 and if they cannot agree within that time SEIU will order its employees to go on strike.
The measure could hurt Diaz's pocketbook, and those of her colleagues, because they would receive no pay as long as they were on strike.
"But it's necessary. We're going to take it to the bitter end to get our new contract. It's something that's ours, that we deserve, and we're not going to let them take it away from us," Diaz said.
Paloma Martinez, the representative and spokesperson for SEIU in Houston, said that the employees are demanding fair salaries that are worthwhile in the current economic situation, and to that end they have voted to give authority to the union committee to conduct the negotiations and to announce a strike if necessary.
"The contracting firms should understand that the multinationals for whom they do the work pay less in Houston compared to other cities," Martinez said.
Custodians and cleaning workers in Chicago, for example, receive a starting salary of $15.45 per hour, Martinez said.
In Houston, cleaning workers earn $7.85 per hour at the start of their contracts and receive a pay hike of 25 cents per hour after six months and another 25-cent rise after a year.
"And what the workers in Houston are demanding is a gradual increase in three years that would (ultimately) amount to $10 per hour," Martinez, whose union is 80 percent Hispanic, said.
This year, besides Houston, there are 10 cities nationwide that are hoping to negotiate new labor contracts to benefit cleaning workers.
SEIU represents more than 2 million workers and 50,000 retired workers around the country.