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Hundreds of Striking SF Janitors Demand More Workplace Protections, Fair Pay

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A group of striking janitors walk through Downtown San Francisco on March 25, 2021, the second day of a three-day strike. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Hundreds of San Francisco janitors walked off the job on Thursday, the second day of a three-day strike that workers began on Wednesday.

The unionized workers, represented by Service Employees International Union Local 87, are calling for fair pay, a return-to-work pathway for 3,000 janitors furloughed due to the pandemic and increased workplace safety protections, including sexual harassment safeguards and proper ventilation as the city continues to reopen. The majority of striking workers are women, people of color and immigrants, according to the union.

Striking workers are demonstrating outside various buildings that they clean, owned by real estate corporations Tishman Speyer, Cushman & Wakefield, Boston Properties and Hines, which count Salesforce, Facebook and Google among their tenants.

The strike comes after eight months of negotiations with ABLE Building Services and American Building Maintenance (ABM), two of the city’s largest cleaning contractors.

Ramiro Rodriguez, a janitor working for the Metro Building Maintenance Group at 1 Post Plaza and a Local 87 bargaining team member, works five-hour nightly shifts cleaning and disinfecting offices, bathrooms and floors. He said he is provided with one mask every three months.

Although workers at Rodriguez’s building did not strike, he chose to march alongside his co-workers on Wednesday.

“We’re not counting on a lot of the necessary materials in order to be able to disinfect the buildings as much as we would like to,” Rodriguez said.

"There’s such a lack of materials and PPE that we need for the work that we perform," he said. "What this also does is it puts us at danger, not just for us, but for any potential tenants coming back."

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At least 26 members of SEIU Local 87 have died from COVID-19 over the past year, according to the union.

SEIU Local 87 President Olga Miranda believes janitors are being treated as “invisible human beings.”

"They were given the title when the pandemic began that they were 'essential,' and yet our members were not treated as such," Miranda said. "The same treatment that tenants get during the day should be the same treatment that janitors get at night."

Union president speaking into megaphone
SEIU Local 87 President Olga Miranda speaks during a rally in support of janitors on strike in front of 101 California St. in San Francisco on March 25, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

In the past year, janitors have been assigned to disinfect certain areas of their buildings without being told they could potentially be exposed to COVID-19, Miranda said.

“The companies failed to notify our members,” Miranda said. “We want to make sure that there is language in our contract that speaks to their obligation to notify us that we are being exposed to something, not just send us to a floor blindly and expect our janitors to expose themselves and also their families.”

The strike has been sanctioned by the San Francisco Labor Council and has the broad support of the Building Trades Council. Trade workers also walked off the job Wednesday in solidarity with Local 87 janitors. More strikes are being planned in the coming weeks.

In a statement, the San Francisco Maintenance Contractors Association said they are committed to working with Local 87 to negotiate an agreement that is fair to both employees and their clients. A representative for Tishman Speyer declined to comment.

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