More than 1,000 janitors in Los Angeles carried out a march Thursday to demand that the owners of the world’s largest buildings adopt a “new deal” for immigrant workers.
Janitors also rallied in Orange, San Jose, Oakland, Sacramento and San Diego.
These events marked the start of the contract campaign for 25,000 janitors across California organized by SEIU United Service Workers West, according to a union statement. They used the occasion to lay out a list of human rights standards that they are asking all building owners and property managers in California to adopt.
L.A. County Labor Federation President Ron Herrera spoke before and after the march.
“I am your brother,” Herrera said. “And I am here to fight with you. And the mayor and every politician in this city needs to understand that dignity and respect for janitors is essential to have a great city. Wages need to be raised. Healthcare needs to be provided, and no one should disrespect (female janitors).”
A crowd of janitors lined the 200 block of West First Street in Los Angeles, many of them wearing purple and gold shirts and carrying colorful signs with their demands for a safe working place and livable wages.
The janitorial industry in California is largely made up of immigrant women, according to a union statement. The headliners of the march in Los Angeles spoke mostly in Spanish.
The 2015 PBS documentary “Rape on the Night Shift” showed how bad working conditions have become in office buildings across California. The film shows that sexual harassment, rape, wage theft and human trafficking are rampant in the industry, and often the janitors’ immigration status is used against them to keep them from reporting crimes and abuses.
Janitors have worked with lawmakers to clean up the industry. In the last several years, they have passed a tougher wage theft law, laws that require that all janitors receive training from a qualified peer to prevent rape and sexual violence and a law that requires all janitorial contractors to register with the state.
Now, janitors are calling on building owners and property management companies to do their part to clean up the industry by signing on to the Immigrant New Deal. Signing on to the New Deal shows that they are acknowledging the importance of immigrants in their success, and understand that immigrant labor is directly related to their buildings being clean and safe and their high-occupancy rates, according to a statement.
The march in Los Angeles passed in front of CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate and investment firm.
“CBRE plays an important role in setting standards for safety and human rights in buildings across California. Yet, they continue to use janitorial contractors that mistreat their workers,” according to the statement.
In 2019, a janitorial contractor at Tesla, which is managed by CBRE, was charged by the State of California with stealing wages from its janitors and willfully misclassifying workers, it said.
According to the union, union janitors in recent years have lobbied to pass the sanctuary state and sanctuary workplace bills to protect immigrant workers from ICE and Trump’s “deportation machine.” Empowering their peers, janitors are leading the way to end rape on the night shift by passing mandatory training legislation and opening their own center to train janitors in rape prevention and provide crisis counseling for survivors.
The union says it is janitors who are leading the way for unions for all — black, brown and white workers to fight for the right to organize for better wages, healthcare and dignity on the job.
The union says the new deal would allow all workers, including contracted workers, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, language, national origin or immigration status, the right to have a voice on the job and organize a union, free from intimidation and retaliation.
It would provide good, family sustaining, full-time jobs that pay a living wage and provide affordable family healthcare coverage; allow all workers the opportunity to retire with dignity and not live in fear of losing their home or healthcare; end rape, sexual harassment and exploitation at all properties and worksites; and provide for management to take responsibility when incidents occur and not do business with contractors with a history of violations.
The new deal would also oppose wage theft, human trafficking, xenophobia, racism and all exploitation of working people,” the union said.