By Joy Sewing
July 2, 2012
Noted film actor and social activist Danny Glover met with a delegation of Houston janitors at the Third Ward Multi-Service Center on Sunday to talk about fair wages for workers cleaning offices in some of the city’s largest companies.
Glover, who’s best known for his roles in the “Lethal Weapon” movies and “The Color Purple,” also called upon Houston civil rights, faith and political leaders to establish a task force to protect the First Amendment rights of Houston’s janitors, after addressing more than 300 people at a rally that followed his delegation meeting. U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green, both D-Houston, also spoke before the crowd.
“As citizens, it is our duty and responsibility to stand up for a living wage, to make this change and take this country back,” Glover told the crowd. “At the same time that corporations are reporting record profits, janitors are not making a living wage.”
Glover’s visit to Houston comes at a critical time for Houston’s janitors, many of whom make just $9,000 annually. For the last month, more than 3,000 janitors, who are members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1, have been working without a contract after they asked for hourly wages to be increased from $8.35 to $10 to be phased in over four years. However, employers have offered a raise of just 50 cents an hour over five years.
During Glover’s earlier meeting with three janitors in a private room, he listened intently as Adriana Vasquez, a single mother of three, explained how she cleans up 90 bathrooms in five hours as a janitor at JP Morgan Chase in downtown Houston.
The work is tiring, Vasquez said, but the reality is the wages aren’t enough pay her bills or even consider sending her children to college.
“On many levels, we’re talking about an epidemic,” Glover said. “We’re talking about a situation in which men and women have been reduced to objects simply for profit. In their stories, I see some of the most passionate, incredible human beings who are willing to stand up against those obstacles that are placed there and begin to build a life. I’m moved by their courage.”
Vasquez was recently in Washington, D.C., to ask JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon about the wage issue after he attended a meeting on Capitol Hill.
“Despite making billions last year, why do you deny the people cleaning your buildings a living wage?” Vasquez reportedly asked Dimon.
Vasquez said she was instructed by Dimon to call his office for a meeting, but she told Glover her call has not yet been returned.
“Here’s a proud mother of three boys,” Glover said. “She’s my mother, my grandmother and so many mothers I’ve known. When I see her and hear her determination, I’m inspired.”
Glover also talked with Alice McAfee, a janitor for 30 years, and Hernan Trujillo, who works two janitorial jobs and rides two hours by bus each day to work.
“We have the largest number of millionaires in Houston, but not fair wages for these workers?” Glover said. “It’s borderline insane and, in some instances, it’s criminal.”
Glover, who was born in San Francisco as the eldest of five children, spent two of his first three years on his grandparents’ farm in Lewisville, Ga. He said he grew up around people who were always advocating on behalf of the plight of all workers. That has fueled his activism throughout his acting career. Glover arrived Sunday from Louisiana, where he was advocating for the rights of the incarcerated.
“It’s not all about the wages,” McAfee told Glover. “We do need more wages and a better living wage. It’s about dignity and respect. We are not mad because the people have billions of dollars. We are happy for them. All we’re asking is fair minimum wage for us so we can make a good living and educate our children so they can be productive people to help someone else.”