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Black Lives Matter Movement Adds Sense of Urgency to Justice for Janitors Observance

June 17, 2020

By Marc Bussanich

New York, NY – 32BJ SEIU janitors, doormen and security officers took a knee along 6th Avenue today to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Justice for Janitors movement. (Watch Video below)

The commemoration coincides with a week’s worth of action organized by the Movement for Black Lives, which has stipulated a series of demands, which the national union has endorsed.

On June 15, 1990 mostly Latinx janitors were peacefully protesting for the right to form a union in Los Angeles in response to low wages and minimal healthcare coverage.

As they were marching through the chic neighborhood of Century City the Los Angeles police brutally attacked them, beating essential janitors with clubs, causing dozens to be sent to the hospital. 

The confrontation was so violent that the national union, Service Employees International Union [SEIU], filed a lawsuit against the city and its former police chief seeking compensatory damages for the more than 60 janitors that required medical attention. 

Ultimately, the Los Angeles City Council agreed three years after the confrontation, to pay $2.35 million to the union.

Fast forward 30 years, today’s essential workers with 32BJ, including the recently organized airport workers, have made important economic gains, but the death of George Floyd clearly demonstrates that racial inequities still persist. 

32BJ’s President, Kyle Bragg, spoke into a bullhorn at the corner of 49th Street and 6th Avenue in front of his members to explain the significance of the Justice for Janitors movement.

“Those Latinx workers, the movement that they were a part of, inspired a nation and helped janitors, cleaners, security officers and airport workers all across this country, to come together to organize and demand economic justice for all workers,” said Bragg.

He then noted the important role that essential workers are playing today in one of the most unprecedented times in the city’s history. 

“Here we are 30 years later where essential workers have been providing services to the public. Our members, cleaning these buildings, cleaning schools, health care workers providing valuable services…….many other essential workers providing the types of services that we could not get through this pandemic without.”

Bragg was followed by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who echoed Bragg’s comments on the vital role of essential workers, many of them 32BJ members, who sometimes face inadvertent interactions with the police. 

“And the reason we’re here today is to tell the world a story that some people don’t want to talk about, and that is to recognize the people on the front lines who went into the fight with Covid.

“These are the heroes of our city, of our country…and those essential workers are the workers who, when they get on the train on their way home, they’re the ones who are stopped by the police and said ‘can we have a conversation.’ That has to change because Black lives matter and that’s the history of 32BJ,” said Stringer.

Maxwell Smalls is a security officer for the past 12 years. He said that he worries about getting sick when he has to go to work everyday, and that it literally takes every ounce in his body to stay positive and keep sane. 

“As essential workers, we put our lives on the line each and every day to serve and protect our families, our clients, our communities and our country. There’s so many people that are dying from Covid-19, so we say enough, enough with disregarding Black lives, we demand respect for Black lives and justice for all essential workers,” said Smalls. 

June 17, 2020

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