Janitors rally to support minimum wage hike

About 300 janitors rallied in downtown San Jose to mark Cesar Chavez Day in support of a statewide higher minimum wage and called for stronger protections in the workplace.

The group came together Thursday at Plaza de Cesar Chavez, where they held signs and beat drums while they chanted for justice against low wages and sexual harassment as the clock struck noon.

Maria Noel Fernandez, organizing director for Working Partnerships USA, was on hand to participate in the rally:

“Today we are honoring Cesar Chavez the way that he asked us to. … He asked us to remember him, to honor his legacy by organizing.”

The janitors participating in the rally are members with labor union Service Employees International Union United Service Workers West, which supports a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022, union spokesman Stephen Boardman said.

The $15 minimum wage bill was passed by the state Legislature Thursday and has been sent to Governor Jerry Brown.

The janitors, who work at commercial office buildings and tech campuses, are currently negotiating their contract – which is set to expire sometime next month, Boardman said.

The group planned to march through downtown streets and stop at tech companies where the janitors work, according to Boardman The workers also raised awareness on the sexual violence and harassment in the workplace that is prevalent in the janitorial industry, particularly for those working during the night shift, Boardman said.

If the higher minimum wage is passed, protections also need to be in place to make sure employers are enforcing the law, according to Boardman:

“There is abuse in the janitorial industry including wage theft and workers not getting paid overtime when they work more than 40 hours a week.”

City Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco told the crowd that the state’s raised minimum wage was “more aggressive” than others across the country.

“Now we truly have an opportunity to raise the quality of life for our residents.”

The councilwoman also voiced her support for victims of exploitation and sexual harassment.

Also present at the rally was San Jose City Councilman Ash Kalra, who said among the minimum wage worker population, two-thirds are full-time employees, three-quarters are people of color and 44 percent are immigrants:

“This is our fight to ensure that all people who are working in our state and ultimately in our country not only have the dignity of work but can actually support their families.”

South Bay Labor Council president Ben Field and a representative from the office of state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, were also at Thursday’s rally.

The union scheduled other Thursday rallies in Oakland, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego and other cities in the state.