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On Pandemic Front Lines, Janitors Get Union Contract Victory

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Thursday, August 19, 2021   

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Janitors have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than 2,000 in the Portland area have been rewarded with a new union contract.

Members of Service Employees International Union Local 49 have reached an agreement with management companies in the area that includes wage increases, health-care benefit protections and access to a green training and education fund.

The average worker will go from $15.75 an hour to $18 by July 2023.

Santa Gonzalez, a janitor and member of SEIU Local 49 said the new contract gives her a boost at home.

"For me personally, I'm happy," Gonzalez remarked. "I can help a little bit more; my family. My mom is older; she is 84 years old, and it's my responsibility to help her, and this has helped me be able to help her more than I was in the past because my economic situation has improved."

The contract also ensures protections around immigration leave. The workforce is majority immigrant, people of color and women.

Gonzalez pointed out janitors have put their health on the line during the pandemic. Some of her coworkers caught the virus, but the rest still came in to work.

"I think that our increase was fair because we also are exposing ourselves and our families to risk when we keep working," Gonzalez contended.

The contract includes a green training and education fund. Gonzalez added the fund will transform janitors' jobs for the new green economy. It includes training, so workers can reduce energy use in buildings and increase energy efficiency.

Disclosure: SEIU Local 49 contributes to our fund for reporting on Livable Wages/Working Families, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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