Tech janitors, hotel workers march in San Francisco together for better pay and conditions – CBS News

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On May Day, hundreds of workers who usually go unnoticed blocked the streets of San Francisco as they marched to demand a bigger piece of the pie.

Many of the region’s large tech buildings are cleaned and maintained by workers from the Service Employees International Union, Local 87. And in a May Day showing of collective muscle, they gathered for a march in downtown San Francisco to make their voices heard. 

The janitorial workers are demanding higher wages, more affordable health care and lighter workloads. Fouaz Akhrouf is one of them, and he said the job isn’t easy.

“It’s a job … Look at my feet,” he said, pointing to the medical boot he was wearing on his left foot. “This is my job. I do activity job; I run the machines. I run the floors. I run my shift. I’m a lead in my building. So, it’s hard.”

Fouaz works cleaning a building for tech company ABM and said he is straining to make ends meet with what he is paid. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and two daughters.

“I’m struggling to pay my rent,” he said. “I’m struggling to just take my daughters out of the City, to have some time together, to have picnics. It’s very hard to do it. And someone is going to say, ‘we gave you whatever wages, it’s good for the city.’ But it’s not enough.”

It’s a problem faced by a lot of people who, while considered essential, don’t command the larger salaries that are necessary to survive in the costly Bay Area. Their concerns are shared by another group of workers: those who labor at many of San Francisco’s big hotels.

So, the two groups joined up at Union Square to demonstrate, as one, for new contracts.

“Hotel workers and janitors are often invisible,” said Ted Waechter, an organizer for Unite Here Local 2, the hotel workers’ union. “It’s an invisible workforce. But the office buildings and the hotels can’t operate without them. We can’t have a recovery in downtown San Francisco without them. And that’s why we’re saying today, it’s time for respect, good wages, fair workloads, so that these folks can continue doing these important, invisible jobs.”

But the problem for the hotel workers is that, unlike the tech janitors, the entire hospitality industry is hurting right now. Hotel revenues in San Francisco are reportedly still down about 35 percent from pre-pandemic levels, and work has become sporadic for many employees.

Still, Alex Bastian, with the Hotel Council of San Francisco, said it’s not a time for workers and employers to be at odds with each other.

“We need more people to come visit San Francisco. As less people are coming here, unfortunately, that results in less need (for workers).” said Bastian. “If we work together, especially during these difficult times, we will come back better and stronger than before.”

But the workers say the cost of living is high now, and they have no time to wait.  

“It’s not enough. It’s not enough. Whatever we are making is not enough,” said Fouaz. “We are here to ask for more wages, more security, more respect.”

Both groups have union contracts that are about to expire. The janitors actually work for private contracting firms, but they say the tech companies that hire them could push for a better contract if they wished to. 

Even in a thriving industry, not everyone gets rich. Those who are just trying to make a living say it shouldn’t be this hard to do it.

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