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OR Businesses Ensure Janitors' Work is Secure During COVID-19

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Norma Martinez, a janitor in Portland, has been able to keep her health insurance because she is employed during the pandemic. (SEIU Local 49)
Norma Martinez, a janitor in Portland, has been able to keep her health insurance because she is employed during the pandemic. (SEIU Local 49)
 By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR - Producer, Contact
April 23, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The coronavirus outbreak has left many Oregonians unemployed, but some businesses are working to preserve an often overlooked group of workers -- janitors.

Companies such as Nike and Intel have committed to keeping their janitorial staff working and not cutting hours. Janitors are deemed essential workers.

Norma Martinez is a member of the union SEIU Local 49 and a janitor at Moda Tower, owned by Portland's largest landlord, Unico Properties. She says it's been scary to watch other folks lose their jobs during this pandemic.

"I feel really happy because we continue to work -- and not just me, but all of my coworkers in the building," she states.

Nearly 300,000 Oregonians have filed for unemployment over the last month. SEIU Local 49 has applauded companies for their commitments, and says these workers can least afford to lose their jobs and are disproportionately people of color and immigrants. With employment, workers also have been able to keep their health insurance.

Keren Eichen, director of real estate services for Unico Properties LLC, says the company redeployed some janitorial staff to work on sanitizing buildings in order to preserve jobs.

"We want them to not worry about potentially losing their job when they're performing such a vital service," she stresses.

For Martinez, being employed also means the ability to support her children.

"My daughter is a student at the University of Portland," she relates. "She's at home right now studying, but I am still able to make that payment every month because I have a job."

Disclosure: SEIU Local 49 contributes to our fund for reporting on Livable Wages/Working Families, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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