By Ernesto Arce, February 29, 2016
A few hundred janitors marched through the business district in downtown Los Angeles to demand respect Ya Basta! Enough! of risky work conditions. Lydia has cleaned her Woodland Hills office building for 27 years. She says sexual harassment including assault is a routine hazard that janitors face while working late night hours sometimes in the presence of only a senior male manager or a lone office employee.
[Lydia]: “We do the hard work. And then some companies they abuse the janitors, we want the respect. Because it’s many years that different managers abuse us. We are women working hard. Yunno, it’s mostly women and we want respect.”
United Service Workers West organizers point out that a recent PBS special, Rape on the Nightshift, exposed the epidemic of sexual assault that victimizes cleaning staff across the country. Nowhere is that more painfully evident than in the offices and hotel rooms in downtown LA’s business district where thousands of janitors work graveyard shifts. David Huerta, president of the USWW union says some 20 percent of 1400 janitors in Los Angeles, surveyed recently on wage theft, said they were also victims of sexual harassment or assault:
[David Huerta]: “It’s a secret that many times is swept under the rug, but we know that with great frequency, especially in those buildings that where women who have male supervisors, who work at night, who are undocumented, who work in solitude, are victims of this on a more frequent basis than one thinks.”
Huerta says the USWW works with the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, a statewide watchdog whose mission is to abolish illegal and unfair practices in the janitorial industry. The union has gone to the organization to file complaints about wage theft. Another problem facing janitors is what the union calls a hostile political environment and constant battles to renew contracts. Gabriel Zamora, another janitor for a large Los Angeles office building, says only between 10 and 20 percent of janitors are covered by a union contract, even though they all deal with the same hardships.
[Gabriel Zamora]: “There are sexual harassments, women raped, very hard loads for work…you know this are the principal issues and they want to pay low…low money, and they have many, many, many work for us.”
United Service Workers West says its largely immigrant workforce is calling for respect, especially as the presidential campaign has offered harsh words for immigrants.