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Union praises corporations for not laying off janitors during office shutdowns.

COURTESY: SANTA GONZALEZ - Nike janitor Santa Gonzalez is grateful to be still working during the coronavirus shutdown.

In a rare instance of a trade union praising a corporate partner, SEIU Local 49, the janitors union, is singing the praises of Nike and Intel.

More than 2,000 janitors in the Portland metro region who clean commercial office buildings, apartment buildings, and public facilities have had their jobs protected through May.

In a media release, SEIU Local 49 praised Oregon companies, including Intel, Nike, Shorenstein Realty Services, and Unico Properties LLC, for committing to keep janitors and cleaners affected by the coronavirus shutdown employed and mitigate cuts to hours.

Janitors have had to learn deep cleaning methods and work around barely occupied buildings, while under threat of being laid off as most office workers are under orders to work from home.

SEIU Local 49 praised certain companies for protecting the livelihood of the janitorial staff and putting families first.

"Janitors and cleaning staff are under significant pressure. These workers have been at the frontlines of this virus, keeping facilities safe and clean even as buildings close," said Maggie Long, SEIU Local 49 Executive Director. "We commend employers for recognizing their important service. By protecting health care and wages, more families will be able to make ends meet during this unprecedented crisis."

Janitors throughout the region earned an average wage of $15.13/hour in 2019.

SEIU's Long said, "It's a huge investment in our community. They could lay them off, but they have kept them, and they are able to support their families keep their health insurance."

She said the companies decided to do this. The unions didn't lobby for it.

On the Nike campus near Beaverton, the janitors are cleaning areas where Nike is making face shields for medical workers on the frontline in treating COVID-19.

Long interpreted as the Business Tribune spoke with Santa Gonzalez, who is a janitor with the agency ABM facility services.

"We're using face masks and gloves, and we're social distancing of six feet, and you can't have more than 10 people in that area," said Gonzalez.

"I clean offices, bathrooms and kitchens." Gonzalez, 52, was wearing Nike shoes because she gets a monthly discount.

She earns $15 an hour on the day shift, the union wage for janitors.

There has been no novel coronavirus risk pay, such as the extra $2 an hour at Amazon's warehouses and $2.15 at Trader Joe's, but Gonzalez feels loyal to both ABM and Nike.

"It's a combination of reasons. I've worked at Nike for a really long time, 14 years. I like the schedule, it is near my house, and the people that I work with are very nice. And in moments like this, they haven't laid people off."

The love was mutual as other property managers praised their cleaning staff.

"As the largest landlord in Portland, we are committed to the safety and security of our tenants, visitors, employees and partners, and this includes the hardworking janitors who are on the frontlines of our portfolio," said Keren Eichen, Unico Properties Director of Real Estate Services.

Unico's Eichen framed the work as a safety issue.

"We need our janitors now, and we will need them when the gradual return to working on-site is permitted. We rely on our janitorial staff — they are absolutely essential to helping us stay safe — and we are committed to providing employment stability for them during this pandemic and beyond."

Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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