This is all possible because Sal, a key rank-and-file custodian leader and a member of IWSJ took the initiative. He organized his coworkers, and wrote a letter demanding that unpaid overtime end and that management let workers heat up their food and drink (see post below for a copy of that letter). IWSJ organized a public picket to support this, and members of Seattle Solidarity Network, Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, and For a Democratic University came out in solidarity. All of this got the leaders of WFSE local 1488 moving, and the union leaders helped workers file a stack of grievances. Then workers, union leaders, and supporters from IWSJ marched to Human Resources to deliver these grievances (see here for news coverage of that action).
All of this successfully pressured management to negotiate.
In a workforce beaten down by police repression, management divide and conquer, harassment, and arbitrary reassignments that make it difficult to organize, this is a small but significant step forward. It shows that solidarity works and that something can be done if we come together and fight back.
We need to continue the struggle. We've heard rumors that some professors are now complaining about custodians eating in the designated break rooms because they don't like the smell of immigrant workers' food. If this is true they should get used to it, this isn't the Jim Crow South in the 1950s, you don't get to decide who can and cannot eat at the same lunch counter with you! Also, custodians are fellow workers who keep the university running every day, and without them professors wouldn't have clean classrooms or labs so they should show a little more respect.
We will be talking with custodians to research this situation, and if anyone verifies complaints along these lines please contact us. We will encourage workers to file grievances and we will organize around it to make sure that all custodians can use the break rooms they just won.
Also, Team Cleaning (a thinly veiled form of speedup and assembly-line style overwork) is continuing in manager Yang Sook's area, as well as other parts of the university, and we need to keep struggling against this.
If you are interested in getting involved in this kind of organizing at your workplace, or if you want to support UW custodian struggles, please contact us at
. If more people get involved, more victories like this will be possible.