Today a mass mobilization of over 500 purple-clad metro area janitors and their supporters marched in downtown Denver in full sight of their employers. The Justice for Janitors campaign has steadily been visible but achieving an acceptable contract has been under negotiation and is expected to be finalized by July 2.
Two thousand four hundred janitors work for 27 cleaning companies in the Denver metro area. According to the Janitors for Justice campaign, those workers clean 180 buildings, 90 million square feet, 200,000 restrooms and one million trash cans. Per night each janitor is estimated to clean 65 houses or eight houses per hour.
Negotiators of the new contract point to 2012 during the last contract negotiations when the city was still in a state of recession. At that time only modest increases in wages were negotiated at a time when janitors accepted the state of the economy and made exceptions to their employers. This year though the city is experiencing vacancy rates at a 15-year low and record rents at 8% higher than a year ago. That’s one reason that drew Patricia Robles who has spent 20 years working as a janitor for AVM who talked about her working conditions, “For me its good because I am represented by a union and that has always been good. The reason we fight today for $15 is because we see that the economy is changing and that the buildings are full. Four years ago during last negotiations the economy was bad and the buildings were empty. This year buildings are full, the companies are doing well, so we want 15 [dollars], we are fighting for 15. We are asking for all the community to support us. We are fighting because we work very hard, we work at night. People don’t see because we work out of sight. It’s hard work.”
Seven janitors are the representative negotiators, but union members voted almost unanimously on 17th street at the end of the march to strike if their demands are not met. One demand regards salary that will follow a “path” to $15/hour. One janitor, Angeles Onate who works full-time cleaning at Denver Financial for CCS said, “I cannot afford a roof over my head and food on the table for my kids.”
Ron Ruggiero, President of SEIU Local 105 told The Nation Report that today was a strike authorization vote, “Where the members vote to give the authority to our elected member bargaining team to call a strike if they determine it is necessary to win a fair agreement.” The current contract negotiated in 2014 expires July 2. Ruggiero said that there will be no strike until that time at the earliest but that after the contract expires, the workers have a right to strike, “At this point we’ll have to go to the bargaining team to make that decision which they will obviously take very seriously. Workers never really want to go on strike. It’s a huge sacrifice but sometimes it’s necessary to win a fair agreement and really an agreement that they can actually support their families going forward with the crazy cost of living here in Denver.”
Susana Venterilla Sainz works in Denver as a janitor, “My experience has been that of struggle and struggle with a low salary in [the same place] where there’s such a high quality of life is not fair. We are always fighting to have our work valued because it’s dignified work. We want our work to be valued and that we have a fair wage. We ask for nothing more. A fair wage. And that we don’t have overcharges in our work. That is the point of view under which I’ve fought and what united, we are fighting for.”
Chris Davis is a Democrat pledged to Bernie Sanders as a DNC delegate from Centennial and said that “Bernie got it right. Years from now as inflation goes up we’ll have to ask for 20 instead of 15 [dollars]. So why not get to 15 today and tie that to the inflation rate and let it gradually increase so that we don’t have to face this problem every couple of years. It’s only a matter of time until the wage gap becomes such a precedent issue that it needs to be seriously addressed. As time goes on we’re just going to experience that wage gap continue to increase and it’s bad for everybody. Not only is it an immoral thing in my opinion, to have such a huge inequality among people, but it’s also going to harm us as a nation economically speaking. If we can’t have our consumer-driven economy driven by our consumers spending money, how are we actually going to keep moving forward as a nation?”
Representative Jonathan Singer of Colorado House District 11 covering Longmont and East Boulder County said, “This is one of the biggest issues of our time. When I saw the emails go out that said that we needed to start fighting for a livable wage-not just a minimum wage-this is what people in my district really care about. I’m out here with hundreds of people making sure that people can actually afford to put food on their table, actually have a table to put food on, and have an apartment to live in and you can’t do that without a $15 an hour minimum wage.”
(all photos: The Nation Report)