The economy may be roaring along these days, but even the Angelenos who’ve profited the most in recent years know something’s rotten in Los Angeles. L.A. simply does not resemble any major city that any native-born American over 30 grew up in. The American postwar miracle — the creation of the first middle-class majority in human history — seems to have sputtered and died here over the past decade. The middle has fallen out of the L.A. economy, and we have become instead the nation’s capital of low-wage work, not to mention medical uninsurance. One recent survey showed that 72 percent of the children in the L.A. Unified School District live in poverty. Seventy-two percent! More than any other U.S. city, Los Angeles is home to people who, as the president likes to say, work hard and play by the rules, but make poverty-level wages for their efforts.
All this poverty amidst all this opulence pricks at the conscience of this city, but for most Angelenos, we suspect, the problem seems as intractable as the smog. For that reason, the janitors who have gone on strike this week across the county are trying to lighten not only their own burden but ours as well. Their demand for a $3 hourly wage increase over the next three years — hiking their wage to a princely $9.80 — is both fair and affordable. We think the tenants in L.A.’s class-A office buildings can afford the penny-per-square foot increase in rent that this raise will impose over the next three years.
Just as important, however, the janitors are doing something that no one else in town has done in years: They have put forth an entirely plausible proposal for reducing poverty in L.A. They are pointing the way for the city’s vast Latino working class, whose best if not only shot at escaping poverty over the next 20 years is unionization. They are showing that, banded together, the people who clean the city’s toilets and mop its floors are a match for the people who own Century City and the skyscrapers downtown.
The Weekly wholeheartedly supports the janitors in their struggle for a living wage. We’d like to suggest some ways in which our readers can help the janitors, too. First, those of you who are tenants in the county’s Class-A office buildings — you know who you are — should tell your building’s management and owners that you support the janitors’ demands. Second, for all our readers, there are a number of food banks going up around town to help the janitors weather the strike. The Labor-Community Services Food and Emergency Program — a tax-deductible offshoot of the County Federation of Labor — has established two drop-off points for canned goods and other nonperishable foods: the Communications Workers local at 9155 Alabama Avenue, Suite 8, in Chatsworth, and the Communications Workers local at 5855 Venice Boulevard in L.A. The list of food banks will surely grow over the next week; we’ll list the new ones on our Web site — www.laweekly.com — and in next week’s paper.
But there’s no reason why the creation of food banks should be limited to the labor movement. The janitors’ strike is a struggle to make all L.A. a better place to live — a struggle in which all people of conscience should pitch in. To that end, the Weekly is creating its own food bank for the strikers. You can drop off your canned goods and other nonperishable foods at our offices in Hollywood (6715 Sunset Boulevard). Moreover, L.A.’s churches, synagogues and mosques may want to consider opening food banks of their own. (The Community Services Program, at 213-427-9044, has pledged to transport all contributions to the strikers’ food-distribution center in Maywood.)
Like Mark Twain’s weather, poverty in L.A. is much discussed and never remedied. Now, the janitors have stepped forward to do something about it. You can do something about it, too.