L.A. Janitors Rally, March on Cesar Chavez Holiday

AP Wire Service

LOS ANGELES (AP) – The memory and ideals of United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez were honored Monday on his state holiday by janitors seeking an improved contract.

The janitors marched from Pershing Square to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for a Mass celebrated by Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony.

Police estimated between 300 and 400 people took part in the march.

Gov. Gray Davis attended the Mass after several political figures including Mayor James Hahn appeared at the rally sponsored by Service Employees International Union Local 1877. It is negotiating a new contract for 8,000 janitors who work in large business buildings.

Hahn said of the janitors whose low pay mirrors that of farm workers organized by Chavez: “They know that sacrifice, that they were taught by Cesar Chavez, will lead to justice.”

“So many people are following that path that he (Chavez) opened up,” UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta told KNBC-TV at the rally. “They believe in justice for workers. They believe in sacrifice, and they believe in nonviolence. They believe in peace.”

The union said janitors in Los Angeles earn less than $19,000 a year. They seek a contract that maintains health benefits and increases pay to enable them to afford better housing. Their current contract expires May 1.

The California law creating a paid Chavez holiday for state employes was signed by Davis in 2000. It also requires public schools to spend half the day teaching children about Chavez’s life and the other half on community service projects.