More than 700 San Francisco janitors walked off the job Wednesday for a three-day strike over what they said are unfair labor practices following eight months of failed contract negotiations.
The janitors, represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 87, held two separate rallies, one outside the Salesforce Tower and another outside 101 California Street.
According to the union, the workers have been seeking a contract ensuring fair pay, seniority rights, ventilation systems that run nightly as janitors work, and workplace safety protections like sexual assault safeguards, since August.
The workers are employed by contractors like AMB Industries and Able Services across some 600 buildings throughout the city, including at office spaces leased by big tech companies like Google, Facebook and Salesforce.
The walkoff coincides with the first day this year offices in the city were allowed to reopen at limited capacity under state health orders, which union officials said further highlights the urgent need for a new contract.
The workers are also demanding that 3,000 other janitors and cleaners who have been laid off since the start of the pandemic be rehired.
"We feel like we're the bottom the barrel, like we don't matter. We're the ones who have putting ourselves and our families in jeopardy," said James Johnson, a janitor at 1 Market Plaza for 41 years.
"It feels like with this negotiation they just don't care about us and I've been though many and they haven't been like this. I feel like the companies are taking advantage of the pandemic and taking away everything we've earned," Johnson said. "Nobody wants to go on strike, but they pretty much forced us to do this."
Since the onset of the pandemic, the union said 26 San Francisco janitors have died from COVID-19.
"We're still picking up trash without masks or hand sanitizer. The companies give us 1-2 masks every 2-3 months and expect us to ration it out," janitor Ramiro Rodriguez said in a statement. "And while I'm struggling to cover my expenses because my hours have been cut, employers don't want to cover increased costs to our health insurance! It's unacceptable, especially in the middle of a pandemic."
City leaders including District Attorney Chesa Boudin and Supervisors Ahsha Safai and Matt Haney joined the rally outside the Salesforce Tower to show support for the workers.
"San Francisco janitors enjoy one of the highest wage rates for janitors in the country, in addition to receiving pension benefits and a robust, fully-paid health insurance plan for workers and their families," The San Francisco Maintenance Contractors Association, a group representing the janitorial companies, said in a statement.
"Since the beginning of the pandemic, member companies have spent nearly $1.5 million on gloves, masks, goggles, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, Tyvek suits and other COVID-19 related protective items for our workers," association officials said. "We will continue to follow local and national guidelines -- including the San Francisco Healthy Buildings Ordinance -- to ensure our employees remain safe during the pandemic. The San Francisco Maintenance Contractors Association is committed to working with SEIU Local 87 to negotiate an agreement that is fair to employees and our clients alike."