Today we’re throwing back to a powerful time in labor history. On June 15th, 1990, a few hundred workers bravely stood together against unspeakable odds and improved the lives countless workers, an impact we’re still seeing in the labor movement today.
In 1990, the Justice for Janitors March in Los Angeles brought together thousands of workers in support of janitors fighting for a union and a living wage. The action arose after years of pay cuts and loss of health benefits during the 1980s for janitors in Los Angeles.
In 1983, the average janitor working in Los Angeles earned a salary of more than $7.00 an hour and full family health insurance.
But by 1986, wages dropped to $4.50, and health care coverage had evaporated. By the mid-80s, membership in SEIU's 21 janitors' unions was in sharp decline.
In an effort to reverse this trend and put pressure on their employers to end retaliation against workers who supported joining a union, hundreds of janitors marched through the streets of Los Angeles. But the marchers soon faced violent opposition from police. From SEIU:
“When the workers linked arms to cross the street in Century City, they were beat back by dozens of police officers, and thirty-eight of the wounded marchers were arrested.
Undeterred even by police brutality, the fearless janitors refused to back down. They stayed in the streets and were joined by 2,500 people cheering them on — construction workers, shop workers, state and local political leaders, even a mop-toting Jesse Jackson — who shared their anger at wealthy corporate CEO's paying themselves millions, while paying the people who cleaned up after them as little as $4.50 an hour.”
Calling the marchers brave would be an understatement. Their determination earned national attention and resulted in their employer – ISS – signing off on a union contract, a raise for the janitors, and full health coverage. The impact spread far and
wide and helped to propel a national movement that eventually resulted in 133,000 janitors winning union contracts across the United States. When workers stand together, they raise standards for all.
This week, SEIU is holding rallies to commemorate the 1990 March for Justice. There is also a march planned in Los Angeles, spearheaded by SEIU-United Service Workers West (USWW).
It's with a heavy heart that labor leaders and community allies come together today to commemorate the janitorial strike. 25 years later and innocent people are still suffering from unjust violence. 25 years later 400 janitors got a $2.00 raise and the right to form a union, 25 years later Los Angeles has agreed to institute an increase in minimum wage to 15.00/hr, but Los Angeles has become ground zero for wage theft. Economic violence is just as harrowing and even more pervasive than physical violence. Stop. The. Violence.