Janitors risk health on front lines of COVID-19 pandemic: 'We're saving lives every day'

Saturday, September 12, 2020
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While many Bay Area workers are working from home, many essential workers have no choice but to go to the workplace risking their health.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- While many Bay Area workers are working from home, many essential workers on the front lines have no choice but to go to the workplace, risking their health on a daily basis.

Besides medical workers, no group may be more at risk than the people charged with killing germs: janitors.

"We may not be doctors, but we're saving lives every day," said Olga Miranda, President of SEIU local 87, who represents janitors in the Bay Area. "We can assure tenants and the people that we see every day, assure them that we're taking care of you."

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The state of California says janitors are essential workers and now the job is more than mopping, scrubbing and sweeping.

"We had to use more disinfectant. We had to see everything is nice and disinfected. We keep distance with people and we have to use these wipes we did not use before," explained Linda Baltonado.

Baltonado works for Metro Services - the contractor that provides cleaning services at the Landmark Building on Market Street in San Francisco. She also belongs to the janitor's union.

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SEIU local 87 represents 5,000 janitors who belong to the Service Employees International Union in San Francisco.

Cleaning is a tough job in normal times. But, in the COVID-19 era, keeping it means applying and re-applying disinfectant to surfaces people touch repeatedly.

"It's exhausting mentally, it's just not an easy task," said Miranda of Local 87.

MIranda says her members run into some of the same problems as doctors and other essential workers when it comes to PPE - and some of the same dangers.

She says nine union members have died from COVID-19.

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"There's uncertainty there, you know, about not knowing whether I'm bringing it home or taking it to work," said Marcos Aranda, member of Local 87.

Aranda testified before a congressional subcommittee in May about the stress of first being out of work and then called back as an essential worker.

He told me about the additional stress of being exposed to COVID-19 by a co-worker. The co-worker tested positive, but thankfully Marcos did not.

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It's clear that from this point on, janitors will be judged less by how well they clean up dirt that you can see and more by how well they kill the germs you can't.

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