John Howley


[Excerpt] In 1988 Omar Vasconez, a commercial office janitor in New York City, earned $11.29-an-hour plus full benefits. In Atlanta, janitor Mary Jenkins was earning $3.40-an-hour with no benefits. While Mary could be fired at the drop of a hat, Omar had job security and would keep his job even if his employer, a janitorial contractor, lost the cleaning account at that building and was replaced by another contractor. Both worked for large, multinational service contractors with tens of thousands of employees in all major U.S. cities. Omar is a member of Local 32B-32J, Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Mary typifies the nonunion office cleaner.

This tale of two cities reveals at a glance some basic features of service contracting. In service industries, labor markets are strongly segmented by geography: janitorial services don't compete in international markets, like cars and computers do. At the same time, cutthroat competition among contractors amplifies the already sharp competition among unskilled labor within the local market. Omar's total compensation is over four times that of Mary for one reason only: his union controls the local labor market.