With grit and determination, Houston janitor Manuel Torres helped Hurricane Harvey victims. With grit and determination, he will win a union.

 

Way before the rain started, Manuel Torres was worried.

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Manuel has been a janitor in Houston for years, trying to survive on the $9.35 he is paid an hour by the company he works for, Certified Maintenance.

Without health care, Torres is forced to live with an intestinal illness that causes excruciating pain. The only way he gets through each day is with grit and determination. To properly address his disease, a hereditary condition, he would have to have surgery. “I just can’t afford that operation on what I’m paid,” he says.

So he just keeps going. Willpower.

On a regular day, Manuel works at the George R. Brow Convention Center in downtown Houston. “You can find me cleaning the carpets and restrooms and setting up for major events that come through there,” he says.

And when Hurricane Harvey started, dropping more rain than any other storm in the continental U.S., he was there stacking chairs and tables.

As the hurricane gathered momentum, he decided to stay at work so he could help the evacuees who, at first, trickled in—before streaming in by the thousands.

On Day One he thought there might be 5,000 evacuees camped inside the convention center. Day Two felt more like 10,000. He wouldn’t leave his post for three days straight.

At first, he continued his janitorial work–cleaning the restrooms and emptying the never-ending trash piles. But he saw people–their clothing drenched, shivering from the cold. He saw others–overcome by fear, anger, and grief—carrying what few possessions they could grab when they were evacuated.

“I remember seeing a brand new baby, maybe a month old, laying in a tiny make-shift cardboard box. The baby’s family was huddled around, shivering on the cold concrete floor,” he says. “It stopped me in my tracks.”

He wanted to help any way he could. So, during the few off-work hours he had, he jumped in to help. He got to know the different relief organizations that set up inside the convention center—especially the medical teams and volunteers.

If the organization needed an extra table, he brought it. If they needed someone to pass out clothes, he did it. If he saw a family that was struggling more than others, he found a blanket or a cot or anything that could make things better for them.

How did he get through it? “I just got through it like I do most things, doing what needs to be done.”

Manuel says the whole experience changed him.

It got him thinking about reaching out to family members he hasn’t spoken to in a long time. It also made him feel a stronger bond with his co-workers, who remained on post like he did.

Feeling even more connected to his co-workers and his community has made him more determined to form a union. More than ever he realizes he and his co-workers work hard every day. And they deserve respect, health care and a wage they can live on. They deserve to make a good living while having a life.

“I’m single right now, no kids or family. And I’m barely making it on what I’m paid. I can’t afford hobbies or any leisure, I’m missing out on that whole part of life,” he says.

“When we have a union, when we improve our conditions, I will have time to do some things I like—like volunteering or baseball.”

Manuel says just because the rain stopped, it doesn’t mean it’s over. Many people are still in shock and—like his co-workers and himself–still need the basics.

And he’s determined to help them all.

To donate to the disaster relief effort, please visit here

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