Issued June 14, 2021
WORLDWIDE —Janitors are the first line of defense against the current global pandemic and have carried the burden of keeping our world safe during COVID-19. This week, thousands of essential janitors, both those who are members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and not-yet-union members will be joined by cleaners around the world to hold a series of rallies, marches, vigils, digital actions, and strikes beginning today and lasting throughout the week. The events will take place in honor of International Justice Day with cleaners demanding fair wages, healthcare, and safety protections, as well as a more just and humane immigration system.
“Today is Justice fFor Janitors Day, and I proudly stand with janitors - who are a majority women and immigrant workforce. This week thousands of cleaners will be taking to the streets to demand fair wages, healthcare, a just and humane immigration system, and so much more. For 31 years, essential janitors have fearlessly stepped up to demand that they be respected, protected, and paid,” said Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employee International Union (SEIU). “Our fight will continue until corporations and Congress honor the essential work jJanitors have provided before, during and after this deadly pandemic.”
In the United States, janitors are a majority immigrant, people of color, and women-led workforce that has been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thise week of action marks the 31st anniversary of Justice for Janitors Day - a day that commemorates the unbreakable spirit of immigrant Latino janitors who were peacefully protesting for the right to form a union in Los Angeles in 1990. As these cleaners were marching through the city's wealthy Century City neighborhood 31 years ago, Los Angeles police brutally attacked them, beating essential janitors with clubs, sending more than 60 janitors to the hospital.
The confrontation—caught on news cameras and covered by media outlets throughout the world—led to an outpouring of public support for janitors, and they won their union. Their victory inspired thousands of underpaid workers of color—--janitors, security officers, and airport workers—--to form unions and win better lives for themselves, their families, and the communities they live in.
In the last 5 years alone, SEIU janitors have fought for strong union contracts that successfully brought more than 1 billion dollars back into the families and neighborhoods where janitorial workers reside. Today, two-thirds of union janitors have won an hourly wage of $15 or more per hour, 70 percent have won much-needed full-time hours, and 85 percent of full-time janitors now have won access to employer-paid family healthcare.
This week, more than 30 years after the start of the Justice fFor Janitors campaign, cleaners will be in the streets again demanding companies provide safe working conditions, and good union jobs for all essential workers, and a humane immigration system.
“I went without eating for 17 days in order to win a union because I knew that was the only way I was going to be able to provide a good life for my son. He cried every day as I left for the picket line,” said Clara Vargas, 32BJ janitor at the University of Miami, who is celebrating the 15th year anniversary of the UM janitors’ famous union fight. “Since then, we’ve helped thousands of airport workers and cleaners organize—because we know there is strength in numbers.”
“I’ve been working as a janitor for over 30 years. During the pandemic we were called eEssential workers but we’re not treated that way. Janitors have fought for and won a lot since the first Justice for Janitors Day, but there is more to do,” said Julio Ramirez, a Los Angeles Janitor. “Across the country janitors are standing shoulder to shoulder fighting for a better life.”
“I’ve been a janitor in Denver for over 14 years. These issues aren’t new for us. We’ve always deserved respect, better protections and a livable wage for the work that we do, but the past year has been like no other. My family’s lives were put at risk every day,” said Marisol Santos, march leader and member of SEIU Local 105. “We’ve been called heroes, and it’s time we’re treated like it.”
SEIU represents 160,000 union janitors across the US, from coast to coast, and this year, 46,000 janitors across the U.S. will be fighting for new union contracts in cities like Portland, Seattle, Denver, Houston, San Jose, Oakland, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Orange county, San Diego, Milwaukee,Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Boston and fighting for responsible contracting in Miami. Janitors will specifically demand union contracts that provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), fair wages, safety protections, healthcare, and paid sick days, as well as raising their voices in support of racial and immigrant justice issues. Union janitors in major US cities like Chicago and San Francisco that recently won contracts will be supporting their brothers and sisters through solidarity actions and on social media.
Throughout the duration of the pandemic, many cleaning companies have not provided janitors with the masks and gloves, workplace protections, paid sick days or the fair pay needed for janitors to stay safe, pay the bills and keep food on the table. Many essential cleaners contracted the virus while others lost their lives to COVID-19, with their loved ones left behind to struggle to pick up the pieces. On top of that, many janitors faced lay-offs across the country as the crisis spread.
Below are more details on individual actions:
In Miami, striking janitors will launch their own mock cryptocurrency, the Cleancoin, to protest how undervalued they are—as they call on their employer to invest in the workers that make Miami’s lucrative real estate industry possible. The cleaners, employed by Coastal Building Maintenance (CBM) are on strike over pay discrimination, poverty wages, unfair labor practices and lack of paid sick days. The janitors, who’ve been on strike since Thursday, will march and picket on Monday, June 14th, while carrying giant Cleancoins and handing out tokens to supporters.
In Los Angeles, hundreds of janitors, elected officials, clergy members and supporters will march through Downtown LA kicking off state-wide contract negotiations for over 20,000 janitors. SEIU President Mary Kay Henry will be speaking at the event.
In Denver, essential janitors and local elected officials will rally and march through the downtown business district in the start of SEIU Local 105’s contract negotiations that covers 2,500 janitors.
The Service Employees International Union is the nation’s second-largest labor union and the largest union of healthcare workers. SEIU is an organization of nearly 2 million members united by their belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provide and dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society.