Posted on May 9, 2011

Justice for Janitors Campaigners Record Their Stories

Esmeralda Bermudez, Los Angeles Times, May 8, 2011

Rosa Ayala has been arrested seven times, endured three hunger strikes and marched in so many protests, she long ago lost track.

As the 67-year-old janitor was interviewed for an oral history project on Saturday, she sat proudly in a chair dressed from head to toe in her union’s symbolic red and told her story.


Ayala joined more than 60 other janitors in a project organized by UCLA to record the history of the Service Employees International Union’s Justice for Janitors campaign, launched in 1987. The university has spent more than eight months tracking down photographs, news clippings, posters and, most significantly, oral testimonies.

In more than two decades, the union has won higher wages, health insurance, vacation and sick pay for its members. It also has organized campaigns for immigration reform and better healthcare.


The janitors’ story took a pivotal turn in 1990 in Century City when police attempted to drive back protesters with clubs. Forty people were arrested and 16 injured.

That day Rina Valenzuela, 58, escaped the chaos and hid on the second floor of an office building. From there, she saw a co-worker named Ramon, a nice man who often helped her vacuum, beaten by police.


As janitors streamed into the union’s reception hall in South L.A., many wore their famous red T-shirts, the ones that became so popular in the 1990s that knockoffs were sold in the downtown fashion district.

Most of the workers interviewed had been janitors for one or two decades, in some cases three. Many were immigrants who came from impoverished countries, sometimes ravaged by war or political strife. That turmoil favored the union because many members were familiar with protests and sacrifice, said the union’s janitorial division president, Mike Garcia.

The janitors “led the first successful union movement among immigrant workers,” he [Mike Garcia, the union’s janitorial division president] said.

the union’s janitorial division president, Mike Garcia

Garcia’s interview and others will be posted online. Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, a labor studies professor who launched the project, said he hopes people will hear the histories and understand how widespread the janitors’ reach has been.


9 responses to “Justice for Janitors Campaigners Record Their Stories”

  1. Question Diversity says:

    In more than two decades, the union has won higher wages, health insurance, vacation and sick pay for its members. It also has organized campaigns for immigration reform and better healthcare.

    Spot the contradiction here. You can’t create a climate of wage and benefit growth for working class professions and have open borders for mass immigration at the same time. The only way the supply-demand curve can shift in favor of the employees is to keep the supply of labor as tight as possible, and that means very restricted immigration, especially the kind of people that like to come here from south of the border.

  2. Anonymous says:

    i worked in one of the Wilshire corridor high rises that were the object of the Justice for janitor project. Our business was a service business open from 2/pm to 10/pm, so I was there when the cleaning work was done.

    The whole thing was a big joke. The Justice Janitors closed down the busy intersection of Wilshire and Westwood for a couple hours between noon and 4 pm so they would get on the 5pm and evening news programs.

    Then they rested a bit, had something to eat and reported to work to clean the highrises at 6/pm as usual. They were not on strike at all.

    The whole thing was an excercise in public relations and showed truly expert manipulation of the news media. they were mostly illegal and should have been deported so Americans could have the jobs.

  3. Tim Mc Hugh says:

    I remember working at a restraunt where they had created one postion between dishwasher and busboy. Sort of a fireman for being out of toilet paper and picking up parking lot trash.

    The guy got it in his head that he should share in the tip pool because his services were vital. The boss told him he was but that anybody could do his job. To point that out the Boss told ME to go clean up the parking lot. Then he walked the guy behind my bar and told him, “Make me a Black Velvet, a Teqilia Sunrise with a Pernod float and a French 75…”

    I got a cigarette break and he got the life lesson.

  4. sbuffalonative says:

    Were they all white police officers doing these alleged beatings ?

  5. Anonymous says:

    “Ayala joined more than 60 other janitors in a project organized by UCLA to record the history of the Service Employees International Union’s Justice for Janitors campaign, launched in 1987.’

    More liberal hypocrisy. Most of the UCLA employees are no longer civil servants. Most UCLA employees work for private contractors who use the worst 19th century labor practices. For instance, one contractor, Certus which runs many clerical and administrative sections fires anyone who gets sick without written permission 24 hours in advance.

    Anyone who is sick and requests a Certus supervisor permission to remain home the next day and recover is denied the permission.

    When it is time to lay off the workers and hire a new group at lesser wages, those who called in sick without 24 hours permission or who were ever late clocking in are fired.

    Every 5 years Certus changes its name, fires all its workers and hires an entirely new staff of lower paid workers. Its latest name is Precise Solutions.

    UCLA has huge files for the hospital and the University. The work is done by Iron Mountain, one of the largest file management companies in the country.

    The files are kept in a warehouse downtown. The entire operation is run by illegal Indian aliens from Salvador, Honduras, Guatalama etc. These 4ft 10 Indians don’t even speak Spanish, let alone English. They were recruited in their jungle villages and brought to the warehouse in downtown Los Angeles where they live as well as work. Place looks like one of those Chinese garment factories, sleeping bags and clothes, hot plates and laundry piles all over the place.

    UCLA is the headquarters of nauseating liberalism. But they have forgotten their marxist roots favoring the workers of the world in favor of exploiting illegal immigrant workers.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Unions & immigration are mutually exclusive goals. Unions need a tight labor market, indeed a labor shortage is ideal, to obtain maximum benefits for their members. Immigration expands the labor pool and undercuts unions.

  7. Sylvie says:

    Oh, Jesus wept!

    They’ve got a job haven’t they? With sick-pay and vacation pay too! Ummm, I do not have either. I’m not whinging though, as I need the bloody job!

    Stop complaining and stop demanding benefits you have neither eaarned or deserved,

  8. Anonymous says:

    Reports of ‘beatings of strikers by police’ in the newsmedia usually translates in the real world to ‘striking workers destroy company property and assault replacement workers’. The fact this took place 20 years ago makes it only easier to continue the distortion.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Any time there was a substantial improvement in workers pay and conditions it always came after a major labor shortage. Labor needs a tight market and the interests of immigrants are inimical to it. The Black Death wiped out one-third of Europe’s population in the middle ages. It was a nightmare. But for those who survived it, they never had it better. The nobility now had a huge peasant shortage on their hands and had to compete hard for medieval labor. If a peasant didn’t like the treatment he received on one estate he could just move over to the next baron’s place who needed workers. In more modern times the great post-war booms of the twentieth century were partly a result of employee shortages caused by the war. An exception to this was Great Britain which tried to get around this by bringing in cheap labor from the west Indies. That sure worked out great for the British didn’t it?