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Janitors fight for better wages and working conditions in Colorado

Over 2,400 janitors ask for better pay and benefits from cleaning companies
Over 2,400 janitors ask for better pay and benefits from cleaning companies 02:33

Over 2,400 janitors, some of whom clean the biggest buildings in the Denver metro area, are asking for better pay and benefits, including better treatment from the cleaning companies that employ them. The union and workers began negotiations this week, with hopes they can convince the companies they work for that the current working conditions are unfair.

This is a battle seen across the country, with cities like Chicago, Houston, and Minneapolis seeing success.

Ruben Rivera, a janitor in Colorado, says a significant wage increase is necessary to keep up with inflation and the high cost of living. For nearly two decades, he and his wife have been cleaning offices across the Denver metro area.


Rivera expressed that this is a job he is proud to do.

"I think janitorial work is a decent job," said Rivera in Spanish.

A job that has kept his family afloat for years, but is no longer enough.

"We like doing this work, and we want to continue to do it," said Rivera, emphasizing that conditions need to change in the workplace first.

The current pay and working conditions are making it difficult to stay in the industry.

Rivera works cleaning offices and buildings in Lakewood but is only making $15 an hour. He says this is hardly sustainable.

Stephanie Felix-Sowy, president of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 105, shares that the union is dedicated to helping workers find a fair wage, beyond the minimum wage, and one that makes sense for their current cost of living.


"If we are supposed to fight for equity as a union, that is not equity, me getting paid $3 to $4 less working at a Boulder building than I would working downtown Denver," said Felix-Sowy.

Besides low wages, their current work conditions pose health hazards, an increased workload, and sometimes having to work through breaks to get the work done, according to Rivera.

After the pandemic, this industry endured a lot of changes. As people left or were let go, those who stayed had to adjust to more people coming back to work. This led to double the workload and not enough pay.

Workers have also expressed being treated unfairly.

"This has just become a living hell for us," said Rivera.

This issue heavily impacts communities of color, particularly women. At least 90% of janitors the union represents are Latina immigrant women, according to Alejandra Aguilera, the director of property services for SEIU Local 105.

"The majority of our membership have multiple jobs," said Aguilera. "They're sacrificing everything to be able to put food on their table."

John Nesse, the attorney representing the six companies in negotiations under the name the Denver Maintenance Contractors Association, told CBS News Colorado that the city's commercial real estate market is under financial pressure.


He attributes this to Denver office markets dealing with a record high vacancy rate.

However, they hope to find a common contract that works for both sides.

"Our members are looking for dignified wages and benefits that we believe the contractors can meet," said Felix-Sowy.

The union contract expires on July 28 and they have a bargaining meeting with companies on July 8.

The hope is to negotiate a contract similar to the success of the contract negotiated for workers at DIA in 2021.

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