Yesterday, SEIU Local 105’s bargaining team began their first day of negotiations with several Denver cleaning contractors to push for better wages and working conditions for janitors.
Meanwhile, several dozen janitors congregated at SEIU Local 105’s office in a show of support for their negotiators.
“Janitors feel like they’re in a good position. They really feel like they put their lives on the line last year, on the front lines of the pandemic,” said David Fernandez, Communications Director at SEIU Local 105. “Also, just the costs of commercial real estate, of building, in our downtown has just gone up in that time, so there’s really no reason why we shouldn’t be paying our janitors a living wage, why we shouldn’t be ensuring better protections for them.”
A month ago, the Justice for Janitors campaign kicked off its negotiation process with a rally at Skyline Park in Downtown Denver. Since then SEIU Local 105 members have shown up every week to demand better wages.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, many janitors lost their jobs or had their hours cut, and those who remain are expected to perform all that extra work in the same or even less time. The janitorial teams for many large buildings have been reduced to as few as three workers, according to multiple SEIU Local 105 members.
Bertha and Gabriella, two sisters working for Commercial Cleaning Services, Denver’s largest janitorial contractor, both reported skyrocketing workloads, immense pressure to complete their jobs on time, and severe exhaustion at the end of the day.
Denver’s janitors, who are a majority Latina immigrant women, must also make sure that offices are fully sanitized, in addition to their pre-pandemic duties, they said.
“The company’s line is consistently, ‘There’s not enough people coming back to the buildings,'” Fernandez said, translating for the sisters. “But that’s not true according to [the sisters], especially with the amount of things they’re seeing that they still have to clean. The company refuses to bring back the staffing that they need to be able to do the job in an honestly humane and respectful way.”
As negotiations continue, Denver’s SEIU janitors will find themselves in an uncertain position: Their contract is set to expire this month. If that happens before bargaining comes to an end, what happens next will be up in the air.
At the SEIU Local 105 office, while negotiations were going on, the atmosphere was merry and cordial, with food and drinks being offered to all guests. Janitors were encouraged to write their hopes for the negotiations on a post-it note and drop them in a ballot box at the front of the room.
The meeting began at 10 AM that morning. An hour later, everybody got onto buses and headed for the DoubleTree at the Denver Tech Center, where bargaining was taking place.
“Today, the action is basically a show of support. We’re going to have janitors get on buses to go to the location where they’re bargaining … and just have a little solidarity rally,” Fernandez explained. “[To] show the contractors that we’re here, we’re a bigger force, we’re 2,300 families out here in Denver who are out here talking to folks, it’s not just a piece of paper and people sitting across the table from you. It’s real families that we need to take care of.”
Members of SEIU Local 105 passed around a large poster board and signed their names on it. With the poster in hand, they stepped off the busses to meet their bargaining team in a show of support.
“What do we want? A good contract!” they chanted. “When do we want it? Now!”
Members of the bargaining team, all of whom were elected by SEIU Local 105 members, came out to speak to the crowd. They announced that they would put the poster behind them as negotiations continued, to show the contractors the power of their unity.
Among those speaking was Ron Ruggiero, president of SEIU Local 105.
“We told them our janitors have been heroes for over a year, and it is time that you’re treated like heroes!” Ruggiero said.
Ruggiero ended his speech with a call to action for all attendants.
“So here is the most important thing you can do going forward after today: you have to talk to your coworkers and get them to come out for actions,” Ruggiero told the crowd. “Are you ready for that? Because we know they’re not just going to give you a single nickel. We have to fight for everything.”
That goes for other workers, too. Solidarity from those who work in these buildings will be crucial in the upcoming fight, according to Fernandez, Bertha, and Gabriella.
“We’re the ones that make sure your offices are cleaned, your desks are cleaned, your trash is taken out,” said Gabriella, as translated by Fernandez. “And something you can do to support us during this campaign is to talk to your manager, talk to your company, let them know what’s going on with the cleaning staff in your building, and tell them that you support your janitors, and that you support the work that they do in our buildings and in our city.”
SEIU Local 105 janitors had one more request for other workers: when you see one of your building’s janitors, thank them for their hard work.