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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‘Project Runway’ Contestant Alan Gonzalez Is A DACA Beneficiary Fighting To Be America’s Next Best Fashion Designer

Entertainment

‘Project Runway’ Contestant Alan Gonzalez Is A DACA Beneficiary Fighting To Be America’s Next Best Fashion Designer

alantude / Instagram

Project Runway debuted it’s 18th season this past week. The fashion reality show, looked quite different this year with the departure of longtime host Heidi Klum and beloved mentor Tim Gunn. In fact, only judge Nina Garcia remained of the reality competition show’s original staples. Supermodel Karlie Kloss filled Klum’s high heels, while former “Project Runway” champion and current fashion powerhouse Christian Siriano took up Gunn’s helm as a mentor to the designers. One of the contestants is Alan Gonzalez, a Mexican-American fashion designer from Houston, Texas who is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient.

Houston might be getting another “Project Runway” winner this season.

It’s been 15 years since a Houstonian stole the spotlight at “Project Runway.” Texas-native Chloe Dao won top honors in season 2 of the fashion show, way back in 2004. Now another Houstonian is following in her footsteps. 

Alan Gonzalez is one of the 16 contestants who is hoping to take home the top designer prize. 

The 25-year-old designer got off to a rocky start as the judges dissed his work. However, he did get a lot of air time to show his ability and fast quip, and we’re ready to become his fans. 

Born in Mexico and raised in Texas, Gonzales represents so many Latinos living in the U.S.

Gonzalez was born in Mexico and immigrated to Houston from the northern city of Monterrey when he was only 3 years old. He was 15 when his father was deported, leaving his mother a single parent of two alone in Houston. In high school, he started to develop an interest in fashion, and he designed his best friend’s prom dress.

Gonzalez decided to pursue his love of fashion and make a career of it.

Gonzalez entered the fashion design program at Houston Community College in 2012 and after graduation, he launched a label called Alantude. “So much attitude, it’s Alantude,” reads his Instagram bio. His line is inspired by strong women with the most inspiration coming from his mother, the strongest woman he knows. Alantude is a mix of clean lines and pops of color, just enough to draw the right amount of attention to his customer. His ultimate goal is to become a household name and to empower women everywhere. Here’s a fun fact, his hometown has officially proclaimed Nov. 7, “Alan Gonzalez Day.”

Not only is there one, but there are two Latino designers participating in “Project Runway” this season. 

‘Celestino’ Sergio Guadarrama, a 36-year-old designer from Austin, Texas is another Texan in the running for the best fashion designer. His designs are ethereal, celestial; a place in fashion where regal grandeur intersects with modern sophistication, his very own name ‘Celestino’ fits his celestial clothes very aptly.

Sergio “CELESTINO” Guadarrama is one half of the duo behind the label. 

Celestino and Kade Johnson together, create the world of CELESTINO with precisely crafted, eco-conscious and fashion-forward women’s and men’s collections. Sergio and Kade pride themselves in using their creations to convey messages that inspire others to take a stand for social causes. They embrace the culture of the LGBTQ+ community and aspire to be positive role models within the fashion industry. They make a conscious effort as a company to be inclusive to all individuals regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, and donate time and a portion of their profits to humanitarian organizations.

Celestino Couture’s designs are so show-stopping, they’re already recognized in the couture scene. 

Just this year, Broadway star Billy Porter wore custom Celestino to the Tony Awards. The “Pose” star’s custom red velvet look, created by Celestino Couture, was described by the designer as a “gender-fluid evening suit.” It shimmered with over 30,000 Swarovski crystals. It had another layer of significance as well since it was made from a salvaged curtain backdrop from the Broadway production of “Kinky Boots,” for which Porter won the 2013 Tony for best actor in a musical.

Sergio Guadarrama and Alan Gonzalez are both gifted Mexican-American visionaries, and their stories represents many of us. 

Our cultures transcend current borders, and to see Latinos make space for themselves in an industry that lacks diversity and representation makes us beyond proud.

READ: This Latina’s Abuelita Encouraged Her to Compete on ‘Project Runway’ and She Won

Two Kids Are In Critical Condition After A Shocking Road Rage Incident On The Fourth Of July

Things That Matter

Two Kids Are In Critical Condition After A Shocking Road Rage Incident On The Fourth Of July

NBC DFW / Twitter

A road rage shooting in Houston on the Fourth of July set a family pickup truck full of fireworks ablaze, leaving two parents and two young children hospitalized with extensive burns.

A family of four are severely injured after a violent road rage incident on the 4th of July.

Credit: @NBCDFW / Twitter

A family of four was injured in an apparent “road rage incident” in Houston Thursday night after a suspect fired a gun at their car, igniting the newly-bought fireworks inside, authorities said.

The children, a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old, sustained “severe burns” and had to be life flighted for their injuries, according to Deputy Tom Turner with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office violent crimes unit.

According to authorities, the incident started at a Houston gas station.

Credit: @CNN / Twitter

The incident began when the family’s father got into an argument on Thursday evening at a gas station with another man who pulled a gun on him, according to the Harris County Sheriff’s Department.

As the father drove away with his wife and two children, the man fired shots into the truck.

At least one of the bullets then struck the fireworks, setting off the explosives and engulfing the vehicle in flames.

The kids required helicopter flights from the scene.

Credit: @olivnelson / Twitter

Some “good Samaritans” stopped to help the family and took them to a nearby urgent care clinic.

The children were then life-flighted to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston with “severe burns,” the deputy said. The mother and father were also transported to a hospital.

The suspect is still on the run and police are asking for the community’s help.

The suspect, who fled the scene, was described by the victim as a mixed-race man in his 20s, Turner said. He was believed to be driving a light-colored, newer model Ford Expedition and he may have been with a woman and two other people.

Anyone with information on the incident is asked to contact the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.