Janitors from across the metro area participated in a car rally in downtown Denver on May 19 to raise awareness of their struggles and to demand justice for the essential workers who are keeping buildings clean and sanitized during a public health crisis.
The work that janitors do is important all the time, but became especially crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Eva Martinez, who has worked as custodial staff at Denver’s Republic Plaza, 370 17th St., for 25 years.
“We’re on the frontlines, cleaning all the buildings,” she said. “We want to demonstrate a message to our cities that the janitors are here, but we need additional protections.”
About 2,500 Colorado janitors are members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 105, which organized the car rally, said David Fernandez, a spokesperson for the SEIU. According to the SEIU website, Local 105 represents more than 8,000 people who are employed in healthcare, janitorial, security and airports throughout Colorado and the southwest U.S. Internationally, the union consists of 2 million people throughout the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, states the SEIU website.
Negotiations for a contract extension “that will set the tone for how companies respond to compensating essential workers for their hazardous labor during this pandemic” are currently taking place, Fernandez said. He added that contract negotiations occur every four years, but this year, the negotiations happen to be occurring during a global pandemic.
On topic of the negotiations this year are personal protective equipment, including gloves and masks for janitors; proper cleaning and sanitizing disinfectant; wages; and maintaining healthcare benefits, Fernandez said.
“It has been difficult for us,” Martinez said of being an essential worker in the janitorial industry during the pandemic. “But it’s our job. We have families and we need to be able to put food on our tables.”
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