Janitors march for wage increase

‘We’ve been called heroes, and it’s time we’re treated like it,’ marcher says of pandemic impact

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Local janitors gathered at Skyline Park in downtown Denver June 15 for a rally with a twofold mission — one, to honor custodial staff around the world for International Justice for Janitors Day; and two, to march for increased wages and benefits as contract negotiations commence.

“Denver janitors, who are majority Latina immigrant women, are the often-invisible front-line workers in the fight against COVID-19 transmission,” states a proclamation from the City and County of Denver naming June 14-21, 2021, as Justice for Janitors Week. Denver City Council passed the proclamation on June 14. “As we continue to reopen, we recognize how much our local economy, downtown office buildings and communities depend on the protective work of our janitors, giving us all the confidence to safely come back to our workplaces and continue to make our city thrive.”

More than 2,000 Colorado janitors are members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 105, which organized the June 15 event.

SEIU Local 105 represents more than 8,000 people who are employed in healthcare, janitorial, security and airports throughout Colorado and the southwest U.S. The union consists of 2 million people throughout the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, states the SEIU website.

Contract negotiations — with more than 80 cleaning contractors from across the metro area — take place every four years, said David Fernandez, a spokesperson for SEIU Local 105.

The scheduled negotiation last year fell in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic so a contract extension was secured. The extension expires at the end of July, and the next round of negotiations is scheduled to begin by the end of June, Fernandez said.

Throughout the past year, Denver’s janitors have reported cut hours — subsequently, decreased paychecks — and staffing shortages, along with increased workloads, as the buildings still had to be maintained and cleaned at the same levels, Fernandez said.

“This left, for example, some downtown buildings with a skeleton crew of about three janitors cleaning the square-foot equivalent of 54 houses per person,” Fernandez said. “Now as more people return to the office for work, these shortages in staffing and increased workload have not changed.” 

Along with addressing cut hours and staffing shortages, wage increases that match cost of living increases will be a topic in contract negotiations along with guaranteed sick leave.

“Currently, janitors have won vacation time as part of their contract, but do not have specific language guaranteeing sick leave outside of what the state requires,” Fernandez said. “As essential workers, they want to be ready for the next possible pandemic with the guarantee of having time to see a doctor when they are sick.” 

Marisol Santos has been a janitor in Denver for more than 14 years, and is a member of SEIU Local 105 and served as a march leader for the June 15 event.

“These issues aren’t new for us,” Santos said in a news release. “We’ve always deserved respect, better protections and a livable wage for our work. But the past year has been like no other. We’ve been called heroes, and it’s time we’re treated like it.”

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