New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, New York City Council Members Keith Powell and essential workers recently honored Janitors for Justice and the Black Lives Matter movement with a gesture of solidarity.
Lining up along nine city blocks outside of midtown Manhattan office buildings, over one hundred essential, frontline cleaners and security officers stood together, in New York and around the country, to honor the Justice for Janitors movement and Black Lives Matter.
Workers and politicians, dressed in black, took a knee for 8:46, the amount of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, which eventually killed him. Workers called out for social, economic and racial justice for all.
32BJ President Kyle Bragg said that the group wanted to connect the violent history against Justice for Janitors to current police violence against Black and Brown people and against white people who support the movement.
“We remember Justice for Janitors Day this year as essential workers—janitors, cleaners, security officers, airport workers and others—join together across racial lines to fight for the racial and economic justice that America needs now. Black and Brown workers are saving the lives of millions of Americans by providing clean and sanitized environments to live and work in,” stated Bragg. “They are risking their own lives, exposing themselves to the coronavirus and to the possibility of police encounters as they travel to and from work.”
Every June, janitors and union workers honor Justice for Janitors. The movement began on June 15, 1990 in Los Angeles when Latinx janitors protested and marched through the city’s upper-class Century City neighborhood for the right to form a union. The protests were met with violence by Los Angeles Police Department officers who delivered beatings (with some resulting in hospitalizations) and the arrest of many janitors.
But the pressure put on management, with the protests covered by media, resulted in vast support for their mission and led to workers getting their right to organize and eventually form a union. Similar employees around the country started doing the same. Tatiana Lambert, a cleaner at Manhattan’s 63 Madison Ave., said that his work helps keep the buildings open and helps its operations go smoothly.
“I’m sanitizing doorknobs and bathrooms, and I’ve been doing that for the past 100 days of shelter-in-place, while many people work from the safety of their homes,” stated Lambert. “If there’s anything to take away from today, it’s that Justice for Janitors and the strength of our union came about because we would not back down. And we will not back down for Black lives and demand justice to all essential workers, regardless of race.”
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said that he was proud to stand with essential workers and called them the “backbone of our city.”
“32BJ workers are on the front lines keeping our offices, schools, public buildings and airports safe, clean and efficient, and it’s their hard work and dedication that makes our city strong,” Stringer said.
New York City Council Member Keith Powers added that in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers putting their lives on the line daily should be admired.
“Cleaners will go down as heroes—they’ve been on the front lines of not just COVID-19, but of police violence and racism,” said Powers said.
Protests around the country, and in the Justice for Janitors movement, have been heightened by the recent outcry against police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd.
“What happened to George Floyd wasn’t right,” stated Pedro Francisco, a Rockefeller Center-based security officer. “32BJ is in the fight for racial and economic justice, and we can’t have one without the other…we, the essential workers, exist and won’t back down—just like we did 30 years ago.”