Things That Matter

Janitors Worked Overtime To Help People During Harvey And Their Employers Are Punishing Them

Angel Flores recalls looking up at the televisions, watching Hurricane Harvey wreck everything in its path. His home city of Houston was being hit hard, leaving a trail of damage and death behind it, and all he can think of was his wife and children. He hadn’t seen them in days.

“It hurts me to talk about this,” says Flores. “My family was at home, and I was here. It was something so hard. I yearned for them so much.”

Flores has been a janitor at the city of Houston’s transport building for 14 years. He’s an employee of JBM, a janitorial cleaning service, which is subcontracted by another company, McLemore Building Maintenance.

When Harvey hit, his building became an emergency ground zero and was placed into lockdown. Someone at the transport building requested three janitors to stay in the building while employees at the government office worked around the clock to monitor the storm, and public officials like the mayor and governor stopped in. When that couldn’t be accommodated, they requested that Flores work 24 hour shifts for an uncertain amount of days.

“What do I do? I don’t have an option,” says Flores. “They sent another two people after five days or so. But really there’s not an option. And once you’re here, you can’t leave anywhere.”

In total, Flores worked for 24 hours for seven days straight. He slept about 2 hours a night in a small closet, only to be woken up at 4 am to empty out the trash.

Those seven days were immediately followed by another four days where he worked 12-hour shifts. That’s 12 days of working before he had a day to rest, all while a Hurricane Harvey ravaged the outside.

“Every 10 minutes you had to pick up trash. It was continuous. No breaks,” says Flores, who lost six pounds due to the brutal work schedule. “I took 10-to-15 minutes to eat, because that was the less I can do. I know I didn’t have enough time. I had to go back because the trash would start piling up.”

Flores says the pats on the back and words of encouragement he received from coworkers helped him throughout the ordeal. He felt he was doing his part to help the city of Houston. And while the experience and those moments of kindness bring him to tears, it isn’t enough to support him and his family financially.

He was worried he wouldn’t be paid for the extra hours he worked through the storm, especially because he feels his employer, JBM, has shorted his checks for years by not paying overtime.

In fact, Flores filed a wage theft complaint against JBM in an attempt to resolve the ongoing pay problem. He also spoke out about his experience with wage theft on a panel with Texas State Senator Garcia and Houston Councilmember Gallegos.

And when Flores received his first check after the hurricane, he says JBM did not pay him the correct amount. When his check finally arrived, it was short a little over $100.

It was at that time that Senator Garcia and Councilmember Gallegos stepped in to help.

“Senator Garcia and Councilmember Gallegos made personal calls on my behalf to McLemore, JBM’s boss, to make sure I got paid correctly,” he says. “And when I got the next check after the hurricane, they paid me everything I was owed. I really believe it is because the Senator and Councilmember called.”

Still, that hasn’t saved him from retribution from his employers. Since he’s made the complaint, Flores says they’ve cut his hours and challenged whether he was actually working all 24 hours.

“They were saying I wasn’t in the building and that it looked like I didn’t clean,” he says. “But I clock in and have to use a card to get into the building. I have the proof I was there.”

As a result, he’s forming a union with other janitors and custodial workers with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Texas, because unfortunately he’s not the only one.

Anita Hernandez was also caught in the hurricane while working her janitorial shift at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center. An employee of an outside janitorial services company, her regular routine of cleaning bathrooms, windows and escalators was interrupted by the flood of 10,000 Harvey victims who came to the convention center to seek shelter.

“When I got to work, I found a lot of people, refugees from the storm,” she recalls. “I was in the area with elderly people. It was sad for me to see them that way. It was a disaster the first day.”

Hernandez went above and beyond her regular duties, changing diapers for elderly people, taking them to the bathroom, cleaning them, getting their food and feeding them, speaking with them and sending photos and video to their loved ones in Mexico to let them know they were safe. She stayed at the convention center for a week straight, working late into the night to help those senior citizens in need.

“I had to do it out of humanity,” she says. “I had to do my job but I also felt like I needed to help these people. I felt like I had survived and to thank God. And I felt blessed to be in a place where I could help people.”

Hernandez had survived Hurricane Katrina, and says, “I didn’t expect to be in this situation again. That was the ugliest thing I have ever seen.” But she felt it her duty to rise to the occasion.

“I always had it in my mind that if we made it through Katrina, I would live to help people,” she says. 

During the Hurricane, Hernandez witnessed many sad moments and actions that left her feeling angry and disheartened. One particular moment during a discussion she had with a convention center supervisor irks her.

“They told me not to share about my experience at the convention center. To not damage [the company’s] image in any way,” she says.

While they have paid her overtime hours, she’s currently working with her union, SEIU Texas, to ensure her rights are protected from any retribution for speaking on her experience.

In the meantime, Hernandez is working to rebuild her trailer home which was heavily damaged by the hurricane. Her husband and 17-year-old daughter are still living there and awaiting assistance from FEMA.


READ: Even Though This Man Was Already Carrying His Pregnant Wife And Three Children To Safety, He Also Rescued His Neighbor During Hurricane Harvey

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Tate’s Cookies Threatened to Report Undocumented Workers to ICE If They Unionized

Culture

Tate’s Cookies Threatened to Report Undocumented Workers to ICE If They Unionized

Photo via chocolleto/Instagram

Fans of the crispy, buttery Tate’s cookies might be sad when they hear this news. According to current employees, the popular cookie business has been threatening employees who are trying to unionize.

According to multiple employees, Tate’s cookies threatened to contact ICE if workers vote to unionize next month.

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According to Gothamist, most of Tate Bake Shop’s 432 employees are undocumented workers. But the National Labor Relations Act says that undocumented workers have a lawful right to unionize.

The powerhouse baked goods company Mondelēz International owns Tate’s cookies. Additionally, Mondelēz owns other popular brands like Oreo and Chips Ahoy. Local union leaders have called the company “anti-union on steroids”.

Once Tate’s cookies heard rumblings of their workers unionizing, however, they hired an anti-labor consultant. The consultant, Carlos Flores, brags on LinkedIn about keeping businesses “labor free”.

“They began threatening people based on their immigration status, telling them that if their documents are not in order and they attempted to join the labor union they would get deported,” said Eastern States’ Union president, Cosmo Lubrano.

The consultant allegedly told workers that he would review their documentation to see if “everything was in order”. If it wasn’t, he said ICE might “send them back”.

“Just because a worker wants to organize, wants to have representation doesn’t mean a company should make their life miserable,” said Julio, an undocumented worker, to The New York Times.

Tate’s cookies employees only began to discuss the possibility of unionizing when the pandemic hit. Workers felt that the cookie company might not protect them should they fall ill.

“We were in the heart of the pandemic at that time and they didn’t know any of the rules that applied to them,” said Anthony Miranti, an Eastern States’ union delegate.

“Will they get paid if they have to self-quarantine? How do they get safety equipment? They were telling us about how they’re all at minimum wage and needed more paid time off and there was just nobody to listen to their problems.”

Officially, Mondelēz denies all claims or threatening workers. They released a statement saying: “Any allegation that the company has violated any aspect of the National Labor Relations Act is untrue. Tate’s prides itself on treating all its employees with respect, and we have fostered over many years an inclusive, supportive, caring work environment and culture with our employees.”

Despite the threats to their livelihood, many workers still believe unionizing will ultimately be beneficial.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people who work in union shops. They say things are better,” said an undocumented worker by the name of Catalina to the New York Times. “Why not give this an opportunity?”

As Miranti says, “I think the workers that produce these products should be able to put their heads down on their pillows at night and know their job is secured, that their family has the best coverage out there, that they’ll have a pension to retire on someday.”

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A Texas Man’s Taco Truck Was Saved By A Tweet And This Is The Story We Need Right Now

Things That Matter

A Texas Man’s Taco Truck Was Saved By A Tweet And This Is The Story We Need Right Now

In a story that’s becoming all too familiar amid the global Coronavirus pandemic, one man’s taco truck was on the brink of going out of business.

Many small business owners throughout the country continue to struggle through the pandemic. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, more than 100,000 small businesses have not survived – and that number is on the rise.

However, one woman came up with an idea to help her father’s Houston-based taco truck and thankfully for them – and us (we all could use some good news right now!) the idea has seemed to work. Proving that the phrase “Hey Twitter!!” might just save the economy — one taco truck at a time.

It all started with a Tweet that ended up saving one man’s business.

One daughter, who was trying to help us her father’s struggling taco truck, turned to Twitter for help. And it delivered better-than-hoped-for results for Elias Aviles after his daughter, 21-year-old Giselle Aviles, posted a simple plea after learning that her hardworking father had made just $6 in a day, his business slammed by the pandemic.

“Hey Twitter!!” she tweeted of her dad’s Houston-area business, Taqueria El Torito. “I wouldn’t normally do this, but my dad’s taco truck business is struggling. He only sold $6 today. If you could retweet, I would appreciate you so much!!”

Thanks to Twitter, they could — and so could thousands of others. In fact so many people streamed in — he found people waiting when he arrived to open up at 8 a.m. the next day, on a line that had started forming at 6 a.m. — that he had to close down twice, once to restock and again when he simply ran out of product, CNN reported.

Gisele knew she had to do something to help out her father – who had put six years of his life into the taco truck.

Thanks to the Coronavirus, things have been tough for Elias Aviles and his truck, Taqueria El Torito. Some days earnings have been as low as $60, sometimes even just $20.

But one day he earned just $6 for a full 12-hour shift, and his daughter was shocked into action. She told CNN, “I just said well we have nothing to lose and I decided to make the tweet that day.”

Her plea to the world worked. Her Tweet has since been retweeted more than 10,000 times and has 9,800 likes.

But neither of them were prepared for just how much of an effect the Tweet would have.

Credit: TaqueriaElToritoOficial / Instagram

Although Gisele admits she did warn her father to get ready for some new customers, nothing could of prepared her for the magnitude of support from the community.

By 8 a.m. the next day, Elias had a line of customers waiting for his fresh tortas Cubanas—and some had been waiting there since six in the morning. It was such a busy period that Elias even had to close the truck for a short while in order to restock. Luckily, Giselle was able to help out with orders that day.

During her Monday shift, Giselle estimated that more than a hundred customers came through for Mexican specialties.

“I’m so moved because finally people know that his food is good,” Giselle told KHOU. “There were so many people, and [my dad] was kind of shocked because he didn’t think there would be a turn around that quickly.”

Since then, Giselle has helped her dad set up an Instagram account for his business.

Gisele has since helped modernize her father’s business by helping him setup an Instagram account.

She told KHOU, “I’m so moved because finally people know that his food is good. There were so many people, and [my dad] was kind of shocked because he didn’t think there would be a turn around that quickly.”

The string under her original tweet lists a photo array of offerings so mouthwatering that people from around the U.S. are offering to contribute. One commenter even offered to buy out his entire truck to feed a hospital staff.

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