Huelga, Huelga, Huelga!" rang through the streets of downtown Oakland on May 30 as four hundred janitors, church, community and labor leaders crowded the Grand Avenue/Harrison Street intersection in a final public action to call for improved work conditions for five thousand Bay Area janitors. Janitors brandishing garbage cans and brooms marched along the busy streets, settling at the intersection where they sat down, blocking traffic for ten minutes. Eleven supporters were arrested as police attempted to disperse the crowd. But this was just the beginning.
Janitors represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1877 walked off their jobs on Monday June 2, after rejecting the last proposal by the janitorial contractors. "The contractors wouldn't offer anything near an acceptable proposal," said Local 1877 President Mike García. "Our members are fighting to provide medical care for their children and raise their families out of poverty. But the contractors aren't offering serious proposals at the bargaining table. Instead, our members report, they are responding with a campaign of threats and intimidation."
Members of Local 1877 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents 75% of the janitorial work force in the South and East Bay commercial office and high tech markets, have been struggling to negotiate a new contract with the janitorial contractors of client companies. The SEIU's proposed Master Contract proposes to regain the standards of wages and health care benefits that its janitors once received. According to the SEIU, approximately two-thirds of these janitors work for below poverty wages. Many have to wait up to five years for family health care benefits and are often forced to skip meal and rest breaks to meet increasing workloads.
The union had hoped that by employing progressive tactics, such as periodic informational campaigns and public actions similar to those in San Jose and Oakland, they could avert strike situations. This policy was followed throughout May, to no avail. The janitors' current contract expired on May 31. Accordingly, Local 1877 intensified its efforts to draw public attention and support in the final week of May with the two major public actions.
According to Marcy Rein, media coordinator for the SEIU, it is the spirited participation of the janitors themselves that continues to propel the campaign. "Both demonstrations were very colorful," remarks Rein, "people brought their families with them." Vigorous chanting and singing in Spanish in response to the actions in San Jose and Oakland underscored union members' commitment to their cause.
To date, the contractors for the client companies which employ the janitors have not been willing to address the SEIU's demands. Local 1877 will again fan the flames of discontent in June by serving client companies with strike notices.
The strategic strike will hit different sites every day. "Our goal is to disrupt the everyday work of the contractors until we can get an acceptable agreement," said Jon Barton, organizing director for the contract campaing. Local 1877 received strike sanctions from the Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and Santa Clara Central Labor Councils. "Thousands of workers in the Bay area could potentially be involved," said Barton.
A Bay Area group known as the Immigrant Rights Movement (MDI) is currently involved in a campaign to collect 10,500 signatures from San Francisco County voters to place a proposed ordinance on the ballot for the November '96 elections. The first section of the San Francisco Immigrant Voting Rights Initiative, as it is called, proposes "that all non-citizens living in the City and County of San Francisco, and who otherwise would fulfill all other legal requirements to vote except that of citizenship, will be allowed to vote in all municipal elections for Mayor, Board of Supervisors, Board of Education, Community College Governing Board and local ballot initiatives."
The MDI is launching this bold initiative as part of their efforts to create positive campaigns for immigrants that will do more than simply defend them from constant attacks from the political right. According to the MDI, if the ballot is passed in November it could "create a movement around the real issues concerning immigrants: the need to include them and make them participatory of our society rather than the scapegoats." By promoting an initiative that would give the vote to noncitizens in San Francisco, who contribute to the local economy as workers and tax payers, the MDI puts immigrants on the offensive for a change.
The initiative has met with strong resistance from several sources. California Secretary of State Bill Jones has vowed to fight the proposal on the grounds of constitutionality. Jones's position is that voting is a privilege open only to legal citizens, and that this initiative will increase incidences of voting fraud.
San Francisco Registrar of Voters Germaine Q. Wong is also strongly opposed to the initiative. On May 1, he filed a Declaration in support of attempts to block the Initiative from getting on the November ballot.
In order to put the initiative on the November ballot, the MDI must have their 10,500 signatures from supporters by July 22. Even if the ballot is not passed, however, the MDI, which was formed in 1994 to fight Proposition 187, will continue to spearhead positive campaigns in behalf of the severely underrepresented immigrant population in San Francisco.
La Galería de Casa Latina, housed on the lower level of the Merrill College Library at UC Santa Cruz, is nearing completion of its inaugural season. As the youngest of UCSC's on campus galleries, la Galería boasts the only gallery space in Santa Cruz County dedicated to showcasing art by and about Latinos and Latin Americans. Because the focus of la Galería is thematic and not ethnic, artists from all areas and backgrounds are invited to display their work, provided that they adhere to the Latin American and Chicano/Latino theme.
Artists are often frustrated by the formidable task of finding a place where they can display their work. Aspiring artists many times lack the resources and notoriety to secure a space in the gallery circuit. For this reason, the founding director of la Galería, Julianne Burton-Carvajal is trying to inform artists that space at la Galería is provided free of charge, and that a wide range of media -anything that can be framed and/or suspended from a wall- will be accepted.
In addition to providing space at no cost, la Galería offers emerging artists a unique opportunity to showcase their work in an environment frequented by students, intellectuals, and prominent community members. It also provides a much needed forum through which artists can explore and celebrate the diversity of Latin American cultures, which have so often been excluded from artistic spheres. In its inaugural season, la Galería has featured the work and collections of students and staff members from UCSC and Cabrillo College as well as community members.
La Galería anticipates an exciting second season, with an anticipated photographic showcase in May from Nereo Lopez-Mesa, Columbia's leading photographer. Artists interested in displaying their work at la Galería can leave a message at 459-4284.
Currently on display at La Galería: Las caras de mi pueblo: visiones de Oaxaca. Photographs by Miguel Zafra. Runs until June 15.
LatinoNet, the first on-line network developed by Latinos for the Latino community, has received a grant of $100,000 from the Carnegie Corporation of New York for the expansion of its on-line information services. The organization's primary goal is to connect the Latino community through state-of-the-art technological systems and to promote the development of collaborative relationships among community-based organizations serving Latinos.
Among the options at the disposal of LatinoNet users are low-cost teleconference discussion forums with prominent Latino advocates and thinkers, access to timely and current information from Latino news sources and links to databases and libraries developed by and for Latinos.