A group of about 200 custodial workers marched in Irvine on Friday afternoon in support of worker’s rights and to spread awareness about the sexual assault of female janitors during night shifts.
Marchers wore purple shirts bearing the words “Justice for Janitors” and held signs that read “Janitors Sweeping Out Fascism Racism Sexism” and “Building Owners: Do Your Part.”
In Spanish, the group chanted “What do we want? Justice!” and “Stop rape on the night shift!”
A woman dressed in traditional Aztec attire danced to the beat of two drummers, leading the procession through a business district near John Wayne Airport.
The sound of the drums and chants reverberated through the business lot, attracting onlookers who filmed with their phones. The low-income workers marched through the shadow of the buildings where many of them work, such as the Equinox gym, where Porsches and Teslas were parked out front.
The event was organized by Service Employees International Union United Service Workers West as part of a contract campaign for 25,000 janitors across California. It was organized ahead of International Women’s Day on Sunday.
While the march was meant to shed light on the general plight of the largely immigrant janitorial workers of Orange County, the protesters also wanted to draw attention to the relatively unknown struggle of women janitors anywhere who may face rape and sexual assault during night shifts without adequate building security.
“It’s important that these workers are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve,” said David Huerta, president of SEIU USWW. “We are saying we are not going to tolerate sexual assault.”
Huerta said the industry predominantly employs women.
Ruth Priego of Santa Ana said she witnessed the beating of a female colleague by an armed man during a night shift last year. Priego, who’s worked as a janitor in Orange County for 20 years, said the incident is in her mind every day.
“I feel there is no respect or security for us,” Priego said through a translator. “I feel unsafe at work.”
Raquel Peredo of Santa Ana, who’s been a janitor for 21 years in Orange County, said through a translator that many of the women she’s worked with over the years have faced sexual assault. She’s been marching to shed light on the plight of the workers of her industry for decades, but not much has changed. She is still hopeful.
“I believe by marching and showing our voice there will be change,” Peredo said.