LOS ANGELES – On Tuesday thousands of women, mostly immigrants, who work as janitors rallied in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose and Sacramento to bring awareness to what they say are abuses of the legions of workers who clean California’s high-rise buildings each night.
It’s part of International Women’s Day, March 8, and Women’s History Month.
Alejandra Valles, secretary-treasurer of SEIU United Service Workers West, the union that organized the marches, says low pay, wage theft, unsafe working conditions and even sexual assault all are far too common in an industry that employs more than 220,000 Californians, many undocumented women.
“A lot of those workers are starting to speak up,” says Valles. “And we’re starting to hear their voices call on California to do better, and call on other immigrants to come out of the shadows and say, ‘We must do something to stop this.’”
The Justice for Janitors movement, with a rallying cry of “Ya Basta” or “Enough is Enough” is also sponsoring a rally on Friday in Costa Mesa.
And today, U.C. Berkeley released a report that says the janitors, along with 150,000 private security officers, often work for unscrupulous subcontractors.
According to report coauthor Sara Hinkley, post-doctoral scholar at U.C. Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education, the property services industry is engaged in what she calls “a race to the bottom” that could be stopped if building owners start insisting that contractors clean up their act.
“When the companies that hire these property services contractors agree to hire contractors that provide decent wages, benefits, basic things like sick leave, then responsible contractors can compete and workers benefit,” says Hinkley.
The report also found the poverty caused by abuses in this low-wage industry has significant costs to society, in the form of increased need for social services programs.