On “Justice for Janitors” Day, As Twin Cities Businesses Begin COVID-19 Reopening, Janitors Who Clean Twin Cities Buildings Highlight Safety Demands on Local and State Gov’t

MINNEAPOLIS – As COVID-19 restrictions continue to be rolled back and more Minnesotans are returning to work, union janitors with SEIU Local 26 who are the frontline, essential workers who clean buildings in the Twin Cities, spoke out Monday morning about their demands to ensure they have a safe work environment. You can watch the full press conference HERE.
JusticeForJanitorsTwin Cities janitor Ernesto Garnica works for Aramark cleaning the General Mills buildings and is one of the nearly 100 SEIU members who have gotten the COVID-19 virus. He shared his experience and spoke about why it is so important that we work to keep everyone safe. 
“I suffered a few days but thank God I overcame that terrible disease. Many other members of my family also had COVID-19. It was scary, and I wish no one else catches this terrible virus. We have seen so many people get the virus even when the buildings have been mostly empty, and now if buildings begin to fill back up and no changes are made, it will be dangerous for both us and the office workers in the buildings,” said Garnica. “We haven’t seen the action needed by our employers, so we need our Government to step up and keep people safe. It is frustrating that not only are we still fighting to make sure people have essential worker pay and proper PPE, but now it feels even more dangerous as our state begins to reopen and employers aren’t taking it as seriously as they should.”
SEIU Local 26 President Iris Altamirano shared why this issue matters to the 8,000 SEIU Local 26 members who clean and protect buildings in the Seven County Metro area. 
“Our members are the front line securing and keeping Twin Cities business safe. During ‘shelter in place,’ with mostly empty buildings, we have already had one Local 26 member (Armano Solis) pass away and nearly 100 who have fallen ill with COVID-19. Imagine what will happen as office buildings fill up again,” said Altamirano. “We also know that ‘work from home’ and social distancing are almost never available for low-wage workers, many of whom are Black and Latino. Our members and our community have borne the brunt of this virus, and now as more people are venturing out, we demand safety. Our union has purchased and given away thousands of masks and gloves for our members because the employers have failed so miserably at these basic protections. But we’ve had enough. We need our local and state governments to step up and make sure working people in our state are safe.”

Thousands of essential workers who are people of color are keeping this country clean, safe and healthy, but they are risking everything—not only their own health but the health of loved ones after they return home after work. Monday was also a national “Justice for Janitors” day of action where janitors across the country will lift up the critical work they do on the 30th anniversary of the landmark Justice For Janitors campaign.

“Frontline services workers are always hit the hardest by our system, and this crisis has seen that happen again,” Altamirano continued. “We’ve asked, demanded and pleaded with employers to step up, asking for them to take these actions, but too many simply have not. Now we are releasing these demands and hoping our elected leaders will make sure people are safe as they “reopen” our state.”
Findings from a survey of hundreds of members.
  • 73% of workers said they were nervous about going to work
  • 1 in 5 workers said they did not have gloves and 2 in 5 said they didn’t have masks
  • 45%, reported no training around COVID-19 protections

The recommendations that have been approved by the SEIU Local 26 membership are:

  1. Conditions for Safe Working
    1. Personal Protective Equipment
      1. Employers should provide adequate personal protective equipment to all property service workers.
      2. specially trained “Hot Spot” decontamination teams: N-95 Respirators, face shield, disposable gloves and gowns for Cleaning and Disinfection After Persons Suspected/Confirmed to Have COVID-19 Have Been in the Facility,
      3. Front desk security officers interacting with the public should be provided with plexiglass shields or face guards, masks, for example
    2. Social Distancing, like touch free methods for clocking in and out, Stagger start/end shifts, staggered breaks. 
    3. Time to regularly Clean Hands. This means at least 15 minutes break on paid time for every 4 hours worked. 
    4. Workers uniforms should be sanitized/laundered daily by company.
    5. Immediate Notification of Potential Exposure to employees, union steward and union hall.
    6. Training:  provided on work time and at no cost to workers,
      1. for cleaners on the hazards of the cleaning chemicals, personal hygiene protocols, etc.
      2. for security on protocols of distancing, De-escalation and conflict management.
  2. Building Reopening Plans: publicly available no less than 2 weeks before reopening, and should cover the following:
      1. Social distancing policies and protocols – control inside building and at entrance, elevators and stairwells, nearby parking and sidewalks.
      2. Screening before entry of building, with touchless thermal scanners
      3. Policy on visitors and delivery persons
      4. High frequency for cleaning for decontamination and high-touch surfaces. 
  3. Fair Standards for essential workers
    1. Prevailing/Standard Wage. essential property service workers are paid no less than the prevailing or standard wage applicable to publicly contracted workers performing the same work, and airport workers need $15 and healthcare by MAC policy.
    2. “Essential Pay.” “Essential Pay” premium for essential property service workers.
    3. Quarantine Pay. All essential property service workers should be provided with no less than 14 days of paid quarantine leave.
    4. Employee Temperature Checks. If an employee has a fever and cannot work, that employee should be sent home with pay.
    5. Access to Vaccines and Testing All essential property service workers should have priority access to vaccines/testing (in appropriate line w/ 1st responders).
    6. More Staffing
      1. for decontamination:  Most buildings are being cleaned at levels appropriate for dusting.  Staffing to the level of daily decontamination will require a significant increase in resources. Cleaners in the building doing the work now must be at the table with contractors, and building ownership to set the right levels for the challenges of this moment.
      2. for enforcement of distancing:  this is not achievable with current staffing levels.
    7. Essential worker councils should be created by the government to decide & enforce these standards.
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