The City of Houston employs private companies entrusted to provide vital security and janitorial services at municipal buildings–such as our airports, city hall and court houses.

Currently, the primary security contractor holding the City of Houston account is Norred & Associates. The primary janitorial contractor is McLemore Building Maintenance. Both contractors hire outside companies (subcontractors) to fulfill a portion of this work, although the primary contractor still retains control of most functions of operation.

As workers employed by these companies have begun to form their union and educate themselves on current labor laws, they discovered what they believe to be large numbers of possible wage theft violations by the contractors holding City of Houston accounts.

In a matter of months, workers uncovered more than 35 cases of suspected wage theft committed by these janitorial and security contractors and subcontractors and filed these complaints with the city’s Inspector General office.

 All 35 cases are still pending investigation and remain unresolved.

Currently, janitors and security officers are speaking out in hopes of resolving these cases in a timelier manner. They have exercised their rights under the City’s wage theft ordinance and are encouraging Houston City Council to step in and ensure their voices are heard.

We believe the answer to preventing wage theft is twofold — it involves supporting workers’ right to form strong unions that give workers the ability to effectively solve problems and creating City policies that support awarding contracts to responsible contractors who have a track record in compliance with wage and hour laws.

It has been proven that strong worker organizations and labor unions have built effective and timely procedures which settle disputes, such as wage theft, at no additional cost to the taxpayer or strain on our city’s services. Strong unions also have the ability to address employer retaliation when workers speak out to protect their paycheck.

When workers are part of a union, they can draw on the resources and experience of union members rather than navigate these waters alone, often without any representation. Without strong worker organizations, employers often create costly and inadequate methods of solving disputes, including mandatory arbitration clauses, which can place unfair burdens on workers and lead to less than desirable outcomes.

Where cities choose to implement responsible contractor practices, the public benefits from working with law-abiding companies whose business practices keep experienced workers on the job, allowing them to provide high-quality services with reduced risk of disruption or unneeded cost to the taxpayer.

Let’s work together to stop wage theft in the city of Houston.