Cleaning During COVID-19: How the Pandemic Affected Janitorial Work

Juan Hernandez stands against a wall.

Courtesy Service Employees International Union

Juan Hernandez has been working as a janitor for decades. During the pandemic, he continued cleaning at mostly empty office buildings, but had to do so with fewer staff.

Janitors have been taking to the streets in San Francisco for weeks to advocate for better working conditions during the pandemic, even going on a three-day strike in mid-March. According to LaborNotes, around 3,000 Bay Area janitors were laid off last year and unions have been calling for them to be hired back, while also demanding improvements including better ventilation in buildings, better protective gear for workers and a wage increase. 

Juan Hernandez, a janitor with decades of experience who works at a 42-story office building, joined “Civic” to give a sense of the day-to-day reality of this work during the pandemic.

“One of the problems at the building is that they reduced the personnel. So all that work went to the people who stayed still working. We were 40 employees. They reduced 12. So we end up with 28 employees.”

— Juan Hernandez

A segment from our radio show and podcast, “Civic.” Listen daily at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on 102.5 FM in San Francisco, and subscribe on Apple, Google, Spotify or Stitcher