PRESS CONFERENCE VIDEO: An economy that exists to serve the person

August 2, 2012

Video by Sean O'Driscoll/Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

At 1 p.m. on Aug. 2, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Rabbi David Lyon of Congregation Beth Israel and Bishop Mike Rinehart of the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church in America led a press conference at the Chancery of Galveston-Houston to express their support of an end to the recent strike of involving Houston janitors, janitorial contractors and area building owners.

The press conference, organized by The Metropolitan Organization, represents the first time Houston interfaith judicatory leaders have come together in support of justice for janitors as part of a specific local campaign. The Metropolitan Organization is a coalition of 30 congregations, civic associations and other institutions that works to develop power and leadership.

Interfaith leaders from the metropolitan area – including Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza and Rev. Pedro Suarez – are urging a renewed agreement between the parties involved that will benefit the janitorial workers, contractors and the common good. In Houston, janitors earn $9,000 per year.

"There is an inherent value and equality to every human being," Cardinal DiNardo said. "Because of this, we believe that the economy exists to serve people, not the other way around. Economic justice calls for decent work at fair wages. Our janitors, who contribute to the proper functioning of our city, are critical to the life of Houston and deserve a living wage. I appeal to all Houstonians to join me in solidarity with our hard-working janitors as they struggle for a modest wage increase."

Rabbi Lyon, Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth Israel, said, "Janitors are part of the builders of our community, too; and, they deserve a contract that provides them a living wage that doesn't make them dependent on social services. In Texas, our leaders celebrate self-reliance and small government. If so, then we have to give janitors a living wage to provide for themselves and their families, and enough to give charitably to the community, as well. Lifting up those who are down is a testament to all our sacred teachings. Religious leaders stand behind both employers and employees who aim to do not only what is right, but also what is good in God's eyes."

Following the press conference, judicatory leaders will continue their support of the janitorial workers until an agreement that upholds moral principles of justice, charity human dignity and the common good can be reached.

Read on for Cardinal DiNardo's full remarks from the Aug. 2 press conference:

"Good afternoon.
I am most gladdened today to learn that Houston janitors and their contractors are resuming talks today to renegotiate the janitors’ contract.
I was heartened to hear this, because I believe this dialogue gives us hope that our janitors in Houston will have a just opportunity to have a living wage.
As a person of faith who recognizes the inestimable value and dignity of every human person, I believe the economy exists to serve the person, and not the other way around.
Economic justice calls for decent work at fair, living wages for all people. In our city, janitors make $9,000 a year. They have reduced work hours with increased workload. They work second or third jobs to feed their children.
They are struggling to have their human dignity respected.
Today, I urge the businesses that operate in Houston to recognize the importance of the work of janitors, who labor each evening so that you may return in the morning to clean offices and work places.
I appeal to all people of good will, especially in the City of Houston, to be in solidarity with janitors as they seek a modest pay increase over a three-year period. The increase would amount to $10 an hour in the third year.
In our city, janitors are key to the success of Houston. They contribute to the common good of our great city, and they, too, should have living wages that allow them access to the products of the common good.
While we appreciate the frustration that has led the striking janitors to engage in acts of civil disobedience, we have consistently discouraged such actions as they disrupt the lives of many in our community who might otherwise be very supportive of the modest requests of the janitors.
We encourage the union leadership to refrain from such actions as a gesture of good faith throughout the contract negotiations.
We also ask the contractors to negotiate in good faith, as most people acknowledge this is not an issue of greed but of a great need for just wages and decent working conditions.
Their human dignity of our janitors must be honored and respected."