Let us take a look back to the heady days of spring 2000. Just about every social movement arrives in Orange County last, and so it was with Justice for Janitors, which had begun in the late 1980s before our very own version launched on March 31, 2000, with a rally on the sidewalk in front of the Taco Bell corporate headquarters in downtown Irvine. Indeed, the teenagers who now live on Taco Bell … ahem … food may not even get the joke inspired by a long gone ad campaign in the headline over Nick Schou's coverage of the blessed event:
Justice for Janitors, which is now organized by the two million member-strong Service Employees International Union (SEIU), was coined by custodial workers in Pittsburgh during a successful fight against concessions in 1986. Later that year, a Justice for Janitors campaign organized workers in Denver. Campaign staff came to organize janitors in Los Angeles in 1988.
On June 15, 1990, LA became a flashpoint when what began as a peaceful worker protest ended with janitors being beaten by LAPD goons. This week commemorates the 25th anniversary of what is now known as “Justice for Janitors Day,” and there are rallies marking the defining moment in 30 cities around the country today.
The largest gathering may be at high noon at Roxbury Park, Roxbury Drive and Olympic Boulevard in Century City, but Orange County will have its own noontime rally at 2601 Main St., Irvine–or seven miles from that Taco Bell skyscraper.
While there may be plenty of nostalgia about the humble beginnings of Justice for Janitors, organizers remind there is plenty of work left to be done: “In California, janitors are leading the fight against wage theft, a widespread practice by which unscrupulous employers undercut wages by paying workers for fewer hours than they actually work, pay less than the minimum wage, refuse to pay overtime as required by law, or mis-classify workers as contractors.
“Although federal, state and local laws prohibit such abuses, enforcement of critical labor laws lacks teeth, and few workers are able to recover any of their back pay even with a court ordered judgment in their favor. Workers are leading the way to toughen enforcement at all levels, with recent victories in Los Angeles and Santa Clara County, and SB 588 (De León), The Fair Day's Pay Act, is now being considered in the State Assembly.”
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.