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More than 700 San Francisco janitors represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) quit their jobs yesterday morning and launched a three-day strike for improved COVID protection and working conditions after months of contract negotiations collapsed.
Hundreds of workers waved protest signs and sang in front of the Salesforce Tower – Salesforce chairman, CEO and billionaire Marc Benioff’s passion for skyline capping – in San Francisco’s high-dollar SoMA district, home to the offices of Silicon Valley giants Amazon, Airbnb and Facebook are located, Google and Twitter. The companies enter into contracts with custodians through facility management companies such as ABM and Able Services.
“These buildings won’t be safe until the janitors have a fair contract,” Olga Miranda, a striking janitor, told local CBS subsidiary KPIX – and if the janitors aren’t sure, Miranda said, “others will definitely not be safe be.”
Hundreds of SF caretakers are on STRIKE today.
The caretakers – mainly women, colored people and migrant workers – fight for a fair trade union contract with protection from sexual harassment and security measures!
Boost @Ableserve & @ABM_Industries #JusticeForJanitors pic.twitter.com/KR8bGd0P4A
– Justice for Janitor ✊🏿✊🏼✊🏾✊ (@JusticeforJans) March 24, 2021
Since the pandemic began, over 3,000 caretakers, mostly black migrants, have been laid off and at least 26 workers have died of COVID-19, according to SEIU Local 87 members. With their eight-month struggle for a new contract at a dead end, the union janitors are demanding not only better ventilation and protective equipment, but also a raise in salaries, health insurance coverage, improved sick pay and protection from sexual harassment in the workplace.
When the pandemic hit in March last year, the precarious conditions for low-wage workers were exposed – and a series of strikes sparked, which led the calls related to COVID to a wider struggle for improved working conditions. All over the west coast similarly endangered farm workers Strikes – with and without the support of the trade unions – not only because of insufficient cover-ups of PPE and COVID, but also because of wage cuts and insufficient sick pay during the pandemic. As my colleague Julia Lurie reported in December:
When some pickers and packers hit this breaking point, there were COVID-related slips on the west coast … Hundreds of fruit packers in the Yakima Valley in Washington left production lines to protest a lack of safety and hazard payments. In Santa Maria, California, strawberry pickers left work to protest falling wages, just as many families were particularly financially stricken. Blueberry pickers near Fresno also encountered a wage cut and stood beside the red and black waving fields [United Farm Workers] Flags.
As in San Francisco, these strikes were not limited to masks and hand sanitizer. Workers who have mobilized over imminent threats to their health and safety have expanded their demands to include working conditions exacerbated by the pandemic – particularly in Bessemer, Alabama, where Amazon warehouse workers are casting their final votes in the most serious attempt to date, the company to merge into trade union organizations. (Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, saw his net worth grow by $ 58 billion during the pandemic.)
These efforts were supported by, among others, President Joe Biden and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. And, according to Gallup, two-thirds of Americans are in favor of unions – their best poll in more than a decade.
🚨 STRIKE ALERT 🚨
26 caretakers have died of # COVID19 in San Francisco. We’re in the pandemic for a year – but janitors still don’t have the PPE and ventilation they need.
As SF moves to the orange plane today, @ SEIU87’s janitors have started a ULP strike to demand safety at work. # 1u pic.twitter.com/3IqeDKgaXO
– UNITE HERE Local 2 #PROAct (@ UniteHereLocal2) March 24, 2021
Caretaker strikes across town are not new. In 2018, SEIU 87 caretakers struck outside the offices of troubled cooperating startup WeWork with a mariachi band playing in support. In 2019, the union fought for a fairer contract on the steps of the fitness company Equinox, both times drawing attention to the divide between the treatment of higher-level employees by startups and their essential employees. Elsewhere, the union is fighting for more than 10,000 airport workers pushing for health care in New York and New Jersey, as well as immigrant domestic workers struggling for permanent residence.
“I deserve to feel safe at work,” said Ramiro, another caretaker for the SEIU, during the strike. “But almost a year after the pandemic, and we’re still collecting trash without masks or hand sanitizer.”