UCLA Library Acquires Papers of Justice for Janitors

The UCLA Library has acquired the historical records of the Justice for Janitors campaign in Los Angeles, documenting the activities of this dynamic labor organization with deep links to the city’s working-class immigrant and African American communities.

Donated by Services Employees International Union United Service Workers West, the records document the movement’s development of innovative organizing and research strategies, demographic changes in the building-service workforce, and the transformation of labor union policies toward immigrant workers.

The Justice for Janitors collection includes business records, correspondence, educational and training materials, publications, and an extensive collection of photos, among other content. Most of the materials date from 1985–2000, with a few items dating back to the 1940s. The collection will be housed, preserved and available for research in UCLA Library Special Collections in the Charles E. Young Research Library.

We are honored to accept this important collection marking a significant moment in labor history. Together with our extensive collections documenting aspects of educational, political and social history in Southern California, its contents will enable students, faculty and scholars to more fully explore industrial relations and labor activism throughout the region.

Starting with a shrinking base of downtown building-service workers in the late 1980s, Justice for Janitors had grown into a powerful city-wide organization by the early 2000s. Combining street actions with industry research, the campaign pioneered a new approach to gaining collective bargaining rights for low-wage workers. A successful city-wide strike in 2000 drew the support of many Los Angeles community and political leaders, including Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony.

“The Justice for Janitors records will be an outstanding resource for scholars and the public,” said Tobias Higbie, an associate professor of history and associate director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. “As a key part of the revival of labor unions in Los Angeles, the janitors have been a model for many other community organizations and unions. Along with oral histories of activists and staff, the collection will help us understand an important chapter in Los Angeles’ recent past.”

The collection came to UCLA through a collaboration between SEIU United Service Workers West and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment to document the history of Justice for Janitors and its context. UCLA graduate and undergraduate students in labor and workplace studies, as well as the Chicano studies and history departments, contributed to the effort, along with the UCLA Center for Oral History Research and UCLA Library Special Collections. A selection of photographs and documents from the collection is available online at http://socialjusticehistory.org/projects/justiceforjanitors.


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