Janitors that are contracted out to various LAX-area aerospace companies are striking against their employers' clients, which seems like a very strange tactic.

Last week 200 of Southern California's aerospace-industry janitors dropped mops to begin a "snowball" strike that may soon involve more of the 700 unionized custodians working at plants in Redondo Beach, El Segundo, Torrance and Long Beach. The janitors are represented by Local 1877 -- the Janitors for Justice unit of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), whose somewhat unorthodox strike strategy involves negotiating for higher wages and health-care benefits with the three custodial services with which SEIU holds contracts (Servicon Systems, Aramark and Somers Building Maintenance Inc.), even as the union pickets the corporate headquarters of third parties Boeing, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman. The three defense giants are only clients of the custodial services and have no direct link with the janitors or SEIU, but the union believes it can shame the corporations into paying these services more in order to give its low-wage janitors a better contract.

So really the strike is pointless, because the defense companies can easily switch to another contractor. The janitors can press their employers for higher wages, but the employers can't pay more unless they pass the costs on to their clients.

SEIU's beef with the companies is repeated with metronomic regularity: It claims its members net about $1,000 per month, have no medical benefits and are routinely harassed and sometimes fired for their union activity. Because the custodial companies claim they will lose their service contracts if they substantially raise wages and benefits, SEIU must appeal to the employers' clients. ...

Nevertheless, the companies' last, best and final offer, according to Dick Davis, a spokesman for negotiators for the three custodial services, is an increase of $2.76 per hour in wages and benefits over three years. Davis noted in a phone interview that this package includes a Kaiser single-coverage health-care plan.

Netting $1000 per month means the full-time employees are probably earning California's minimum wage of $8.25 per hour, and a raise of $2.76 per hour is 33%; over 3 years that's still 11% per year. Furthermore, since the purpose of a minimum wage is to artificially increase the cost of labor, there are probably workers willing to do the job even more cheaply. Somehow though, the defense contractors are supposed to feel bad for paying the lowest legal rate, a rate which is higher than the rate some people would be willing to do the work for.

"You've got to look at the big picture," acting L.A. County Federation of Labor chief Martin Ludlow told the Weekly before addressing a Thursday rally in front of Raytheon's El Segundo headquarters. "It is shameful that the wealthiest corporations can't offer dignity and respect to the workers who clean its buildings."

Corporations can't be wealthy. Shareholders can be wealthy, but most shareholders are just average middle-class workers who've invested some of their hard-earned money into stocks. Why should they pay a higher price for labor than the workers are willing to work for? The minimum wage already forces them to do so, and they're still supposed to feel guilty? And anyway, since when are "dignity and respect" based on how much you earn?

"This is a very savvy union," said Ruth Milkman, a UCLA sociology professor and labor expert. "Any company would have to be out of its mind not to take this campaign seriously. [SEIU's] strategy is to make it easier for the real employers -- Boeing and Raytheon -- to say yes. Even defense contractors have a public image that they don't want marred."

Even? Defense contractors should already have a good public image. Soldiers aren't the only ones who work to keep this country safe. Defense contractors don't risk their lives as often as our soldiers do, but they do play a critical role in supporting our troops. Without our advanced weapons systems, many more soldiers would be killed and our international stature would be vastly diminished. What's more, the defense contractors mentioned in this article donate significant amounts of money to the local communities, to schools, scholarships, libraries, and so forth. Far form being ashamed, Raytheon, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman have a lot to be proud of.

If my job pays too little, I ask for a raise look around for a new job. If my boss thinks he can get someone else to do the job cheaper than I will, then I'm out of luck and I'm probably overestimating the value of my skill. So it goes. I'd like to make a million dollars an hour, but my time isn't worth that. I don't whine and complain and run a public guilt trip to coerce my employer to make concessions.

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