Investing in Our Workplaces…and Our Communities

Abel Hernandez, Janitor

As tenants begin to return, make sure your office space is ready to welcome them back. As Janitors in Seattle and San Francisco settle contracts, that help ensure janitors are Protected, Respected, Paid, and on the job to help welcome back tenants, Portland area janitors head into their final week of bargaining a new contract.

Abel Hernandez is a janitor who works in downtown Portland. During the past year, he has continued to show up at his office building to clean and sanitize to help stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus. He plays an important and risky role in keeping our community safe, and it has been a long, hard, and scary year on the frontlines of the pandemic.

“We came to work every day during the pandemic,” says Hernandez, “There were times I was nervous for me and my family and the risk of COVID.  Even at times during the summer when downtown felt like a dangerous place to be, me and my coworkers were proud of the work we do keeping offices clean.”

As office tenants begin to return downtown, Abel and nearly 2,000 other janitors, members of SEIU Local 49, are bargaining over the work protections, pay, and benefits they need to stay on the job. The outcome of that fight might determine whether janitors remain on the job, just as buildings begin to reopen and tenants come back, a first step in seeing our economy improve.

Janitors, who come from mostly Black, Brown, and immigrant communities, work in some of greater Portland’s most high-profile office buildings, including the City of Portland, Multnomah County, Portland State, and some of Oregon’s most prominent businesses like Nike, Intel, and Adidas. Janitors are key to our recovery from the pandemic and crucial to building back the economy, especially for our communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

The majority of downtown office buildings use Union janitorial contractors to clean and sanitize offices and public spaces, and that investment has paid off. Union Janitors have fared far better than nonunion janitors during the pandemic. Nonunion janitors reported working without PPE, little to no training, and not having access to affordable healthcare to take care of themselves, or their family members if they are ill.

Janitors are calling on Portland and Oregon’s largest businesses to continue to invest in Union contractors – and invest in the training, pay, and protections needed for our post-pandemic reality. They are calling on those who do not currently use a Union janitorial company to do the right thing, and invest in a Union company, where workers have basic on-the-job protections, and access to critical benefits, like adequate sick time and affordable healthcare.

The Janitor’s contract is set to expire on July 31, 2021.  By making sure that janitors are respected, protected, and paid, employers are investing in our communities. And with reopening on the horizon, it’s time to invest in the most important resource we have – the dedicated janitors who have risked their lives during the pandemic to keep our community safe.

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