Environment & Science

Los Angeles janitors call for more environmentally-friendly working conditions

Unionized janitors call for more environmental cleaning practices at Union Bank Plaza on April 22, 2016.
Unionized janitors call for more environmental cleaning practices at Union Bank Plaza on April 22, 2016.

In a demonstration on the steps of the Union Bank Plaza in downtown Los Angeles on Friday, unionized janitors, who are part of the Green Janitor Education Program, called for a switch to more environmentally-friendly cleaning practices.

The janitors are part of the SEIU United Service Workers West, a union which represents more than 40,000 janitorial workers, security officers, airport workers and service workers in California.

The demonstration comes as the SEIU negotiates soon-to-expire contracts with different janitorial companies, Mata said. They hope to use this as an opportunity to expand the program.

The pilot program, based in Los Angeles, was launched last year with the training of 200 janitors. It's a partnership between the U.S. Green Building Council-Los Angeles, the Building Owners and Managers Association of Greater Los Angeles and the SEIU.

Janitors in the program are trained and certified on energy efficiency, recycling, waste management, water conservation and other environmental practices. 

“It’s something to train those that are on the front lines of some of the work that’s being done throughout our city day-in and day-out, cleaning our buildings and doing that hard work in the middle of the night. They’re the ones that turn off the lights and do the maintenance work,” SEIU Communications Director Refugio Mata said.

Some momentum for the program was gained when it was adopted as part of what's being called L.A.'s first sustainable city plan, which Mayor Eric Garcetti introduced earlier this month.

In addition to city leaders and janitorial companies, the program has reached out to the business community to address how to enable buildings to meet green performance standards.

“It’s really a testament to the power of partnerships when the community comes together,” Mata said.  

Most of the time, janitors aren’t provided with proper equipment to protect themselves against the harsh chemicals in the cleaning supplies, Mata said.

“We’re talking about workers that come in at 2 a.m. in the morning, often working alone,” Mata said. “They’re isolated and we want stronger protections so that we can not only protect their health but also the way that they live, their livelihood.”