By James Thompson

U.S. Rep. Al Green marches with the janitors in 2006

HOUSTON – 15 union activists linked arms in downtown Houston and blocked the intersection of Bell and Smith in a sit-down protest demanding higher wages for janitors represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The 15 activists were arrested by Houston Police Department officers when they refused to move.

SEIU represents 3200 janitors in Houston who clean office buildings. There have been solidarity pickets in other cities across the U.S.

About 250 protesters were involved. They carried brooms, flags and signs and banged on pails as they marched three blocks. The demonstration was held during the lunch hour and gained the attention of downtown workers during their lunch break.

SEIU is attempting to put pressure on building owners, city officials and property management firms in an effort to raise janitors wages to $10 an hour. The top wage for most janitors is $8.35 an hour.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the janitors’ strike has spread to 43 buildings and about 450 workers are on strike.

SEIU is seeking a new contract with the Houston Area Contractors Association, which includes ABM Janitorial Services, GCA Services and ISS Facility Services as well as other companies.

The Houston Police Department has arrested demonstrators supporting the janitors on two previous occasions already.