26 Years After ‘Justice for Janitors’ Campaign Targeting Carr, Industry Titan Continues Unjust Treatment
Washington, D.C. – Over half of the commercial property owners in the D.C. area have not laid off any contracted janitors, as an overwhelming majority of their tenants have been paying rent during the pandemic. Of the over 600 owners, Carr Properties is an outlier, choosing to lay off over 40 percent of the janitorial workforce at their commercial office buildings throughout the DMV, despite collecting over 98 percent of their office rents in April. On “Justice for Janitor’s Day,” full-time cleaners laid off in April are on the verge of losing health insurance they fought so hard to achieve.
“After risking their lives and their families’ health to keep Carr Properties safe and clean during the pandemic, multi-million dollar giant is rewarding essential workers with pink slips,” said 32BJ SEIU Vice President, Jaime Contreras. “Decades later, Carr is taking the Justice out of “Justice for Janitors Day” by leaving these hard-working men and without a paycheck or health care.” After a 10-year campaign in the 1990’s targeting Carr Properties, janitors made history when they blocked the Roosevelt Bridge demanding and winning living wages, employer-paid benefits and respect in the workplace. On June 15, 1994, over 400 commercial cleaners in Los Angeles joined forces in a peaceful rally for a fair contract and a union. As the workers locked arms to cross the street in L.A.’s Century City, they were beaten back by baton-wielding police officers. Thirty-eight marchers were wounded and arrested, and from that point on, June 15 has been memorialized as “Justice for Janitors Day.”
In March, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Montgomery County Executive Mark Elrich, Arlington County Board Member Katie Cristol, and Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott issued a statement warning owners not to layoff or cut benefits to cleaners on the frontlines of the pandemic:
“32BJ office cleaners and security officers, among others who are on the frontlines of the Coronavirus crisis, keeping buildings clean and safe for everyone. The work they do every day is invaluable and now more than ever, their hard work can literally save lives. These men and women are the unsung heroes of the Coronavirus pandemic and they can least afford to lose wages and benefits during this crisis. At the same time that cleaners and security officers have stepped forward to do their jobs during this outbreak, they are now being threatened with layoffs and reductions. The metropolitan Washington area has the healthiest real estate market in the country and tenants continue to pay the highest rents in the country. During this temporary change, where tenants continue to pay rent, the owners and their contractors have a responsibility to their cleaners and officers. These men and women have performed their jobs admirably under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the urgency for these workers to maintain health care that enables them to see a doctor, a crucial public health necessity that prevents the spread of any illness. Building owners can and must ensure the well-being and health of workers and their families.”
32BJ SEIU Vice President echoed regional leaders’ warning in a letter to Oliver Carr:
“The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of high safety standards at office buildings, ensuring that offices do not become vectors of the virus. We are concerned these reductions will jeopardize the cleaning standards at your building, and we urge you to maintain cleaning standards and support the men and women who clean your buildings during this time. It is critical that the property owner maintain high cleaning standards to ensure a safe transition when more tenants return to office spaces. Instead of being rewarded for the essential work they do, over 40 percent of the hardworking contracted cleaners at Carr buildings are laid off. The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the urgency for these workers to maintain health care that enables them to see a doctor, a crucial public health necessity that prevents the spread of any illness.”
To survive the COVID-19 pandemic, our society has placed the burden on workers officially deemed “Essential” under federal guidance and under most state and local stay-at-home orders. While essential workers are keeping others safe, they and those close to them risk getting sick and dying.
Essential workers and 32BJ are pushing U.S. Senators to pass the HEROES Act, which would guarantee paid sick time and expand unemployment insurance and access to health care. The bill would give essential janitors, security officers, and airport workers PPE, essential premium pay, and layoff protections. Essential building service workers have made enormous sacrifices to do their jobs during COVID, yet without Senate action they will be thanked with pink slips.
With more than 175,000 members in 11 states, including over 20,000 in the D.C. area and Baltimore, MD, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.