By SERGIO SALINAS
(June 9, 2016) — They work at night after you’ve gone home from work. They are invisible to many. They are the 3,000 SEIU Local 6 janitors who clean commercial buildings throughout Seattle/King County, as well as in Pierce County, Bellingham, and Spokane. In addition to office buildings, they clean hospitals, schools, and some of Washington’s most prestigious buildings.
Janitors are hardworking people — many are immigrants and refugees who came to Washington to build a better life for their families. Janitors pride themselves in their work; some have worked in the same building for decades. They are so tired when they get off work, but many even have second jobs just to support their families here or thousands of miles away. They are our friends, neighbors — and members of Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA).
Janitors’ wages have not kept pace with other jobs in the region. During the recession janitors made concessions in their contract, recognizing that commercial buildings had high vacancies. The Puget Sound area is booming now, but the prosperity has not been shared with the janitors. In fact, they are working harder for less money.
Janitors are in the top 10 of Labor & Industries claims paid out due to workplace injuries. Many janitors point to recent work speedups as the cause, having to clean more areas during their eight-hour shifts. Janitors are also increasingly exposed to toxins, bodily fluids, and hypodermic needles in office trash.
“I thought I was going to die; I was aching all over my body. We had to go to court on that one,” she said, adding that the union supported her all the way.
In her 80’s, Visi can still be seen at labor struggles with her fellow retiree, Catherine Pottinger.
“We need to support the workers and their struggles. It’s just been a part of my life forever. They need a tolerable workload.”
In her 80’s as well, Catherine takes the bus to SEIU6 to phone bank for their actions. A few years ago, she was the first person arrested at an Our Walmart rally!
Show your solidarity. Join Catherine and Visi on Friday, June 17 at 1:30 p.m. in Westlake Park to stand with the janitors as they fight for a fair contract. SEIU6 janitors’ contract expires June 30.
For a schedule of solidarity events around Justice for Janitors, go to www.seiu6.org.
Sergio Salinas is President of SEIU Local 6. Founded by a group of Seattle theater janitors, SEIU 6 became one of the original locals of the Service Employees International Union in 1921. Today SEIU 6 represents more than 4,000 janitors, security officers, and allied industries workers in Washington state.
This column originally appeared in PSARA’s newsletter The Advocate, and it posted here with the author’s permission.