Today is Justice for Janitors Day, and workers are marking it by highlighting their crucial efforts during the pandemic.
Justice for Janitors Day commemorates a movement that began in Los Angeles in 1990, when striking workers were beaten by police and spurred the start of unions across the nation. About 2,000 Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 49 janitors in the Portland region are kicking off bargaining their new contract as well.
Maggie Long, executive director of Local 49, said the workers have played a vital role during the pandemic.
“There’s just been no question that, whether it was in the beginning of the pandemic disinfecting an infectious disease to now creating a space that is welcoming for people to come back, our workers have gone from invisible to essential,” Long contended.
Long noted the janitors current contract expires on July 31.
Santa Gonzalez, a janitor at Nike and member of SEIU Local 49, said the company has been providing protections, but Gonzalez has coworkers who have contracted COVID-19, which highlights the risks she takes even with safety measures in place.
“We are taking a lot of precautions with gloves, washing hands, keeping things clean and disinfecting,” Gonzalez explained. “But it is just one of the risks. I worry about my daughters, who aren’t old enough yet to get the vaccine.”
Long added janitors deserve to be recognized in upcoming negotiations for their work during the pandemic.
“As front-line essential workers, how are they paid accordingly for that?” Long asked. “Taking on dangerous and risky jobs, keeping buildings safe and secure? How do they make sure they have the PPE and protection they need, and how do they make sure that they’re respected, protected and paid?”