By David Bacon
This is the year janitors have been waiting for - the year they plan to get their wages back.
Five years ago, Service Employees locals from San Diego to Seattle began lining up their contracts, demanding agreements that all expire this spring. In Oakland and Silicon Valley, workers even went on strike to get the 2000 expiration date. Big building service companies, who clean offices around the country, have fought this campaign. They knew what the union had in mind: coordinated action around the country. And starting in Los Angeles, their fears were realized.
Janitors voted to strike on April 4. That night, they walked out of the city's gleaming glass office towers. The 18 affected contractors were ready. Confrontations escalated in the parking garages below the skyscrapers, as police attempted to escort strikebreakers through the picket lines. In many cases, large groups of striking janitors held the police off and kept the scabs out.
When contractors tried to get an injunction to stop the picketing, Judge Dzintra Janavs turned them down. Meanwhile, Teamster UPS drivers and garbage collectors refused to cross the line. As the week wore on, marches of thousands of janitors and supporters swept west from downtown to Century City, led by Jesse Jackson and California State Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (a prospective Los Angeles mayoral candidate), demanding that the contractors negotiate.