UCLA Labor Center, Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund Unveil New Report on California Janitor Working Conditions
Study shows across almost all measures of job quality and economic well-being, private-sector female janitors are significantly worse off than their male counterparts.12/12/2022
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 12, 2022
Contact: Carolina Gamero, Carolina.Gamero@berlinrosen.com, (310) 893-9038
CALIFORNIA ー Janitorial advocates from the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund (MCTF) in partnership with researchers at the UCLA Labor Center today unveiled a new report, Profile of Janitorial Workers in California, which provides a glimpse into the economic vulnerabilities of California’s private sector janitors, particularly women, who face rampant misclassification, greater economic distress, food insecurity, and workplace harassment in comparison to their male counterparts and the private sector workforce as a whole.
As United States inflation numbers reach record levels not seen in decades and workers feel the financial crunch, the new report brings transparency to the precarious economic conditions and gendered pay inequities California janitors are exposed to. The report also challenges the popular perception that the janitorial workforce is predominantly comprised of male janitors. In fact, almost half of janitors working for janitorial companies in California are women.
“Janitors are an essential part of California’s workforce. They fulfill a crucial role in keeping our grocery stores, office buildings, and public spaces clean and sanitized for us to use,” Yardenna Aaron, Executive Director of the Maintenance Corporation Trust Fund (MCTF). “But despite their hard work and commitment to keeping facilities safe for the general public, they aren’t paid dignified wages and all too often experience difficult and unsustainable working conditions.”
When looking at the private-sector janitorial workforce, the report found that over one third (35%) are women, and that a larger proportion of women (48%) work as subcontracted janitors. Women in the janitorial workforce face workplace issues such as gendered pay gaps, sexual discrimination, harassment, and abuse, as well as obstacles to work-life balance and arranging for childcare.
The report found that private-sector female janitors have lower median wages, $12.21 per hour, compared to $14.08 per hour for male janitors. Private-sector female janitors also experience higher rates of poverty (45%) and are more likely to be CalFresh or Medi-Cal beneficiaries and are less likely to have employment-based health insurance than their male counterparts.
“We can’t ignore that in the private sector janitorial workforce, stark gendered disparities are setting back women janitors the most,” said Lucero Herrera, Senior Research Analyst at the UCLA Labor Center. “Women janitors are most likely to face precarious aspects of the job, from poor working conditions, violence and sexual assault, and wage and economic vulnerability, to a lack of access to employee-provided health and benefits.”
According to the report, 37% of private-sector janitors in California work for subcontractors, meaning that they are employed by firms that contract with building owners and managers, rather than being hired directly by the building owners or tenants themselves — often leading to worse employment conditions and economic outcomes for janitors. The report also found that the janitorial workforce is overwhelmingly comprised of racial minorities, with 7 in 10 private sector janitors being Latinx, compared to nearly 4 in 10 for all private sector workers.
“When janitorial subcontractors misclassify workers, commit wage theft, and fail to keep minimal workplace standards, they are preying on workers who are already economically vulnerable and can’t speak up out of fear of retaliation,” said Paul Hayes, Research Analyst at the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund. “What’s worse, subcontracted janitorial services companies can dissolve and reform under a different name in order to avoid being held accountable for violating labor laws. Not only does this rob workers of their pay, but it takes money out of communities of color and drives down working standards across the industry.”
During a press briefing, women janitors shared their experiences with gendered pay gaps and disparities in benefits. The report’s authors also called on state legislators, enforcement agencies, and contractors to enact stronger enforcement and protections for janitors across California as well as raise visibility of programs and resources for women.
“I am disabled, and when I was working in the building I was under a lot of pressure to sanitize seats, and clean showers and bathrooms at a breakneck pace,” said Maria Aguilar, a janitor who worked several years for a company subcontracted to clean the Honda Center arena in Anaheim. “I have felt the deception of seeing my male colleagues get preferential treatment, and managers ignoring me when I asked why I wasn’t getting paid the hours I worked. I was living paycheck to paycheck and always feeling like I was just scraping by.”
The report aims to uncover how irresponsible practices by cleaning services contracts drive down working conditions, forcing women and families to shoulder the burden. During the press call, participants called on state legislators to support ongoing enforcement and protections for janitors in California and highlighted the need for responsible contractors to continue to lift up the industry standards.
The report, which profiles private sector janitorial workers in California, was based on an analysis of government data from the 5-year sample (2015–2019) of the American Community Survey (ACS) and a pooled 10-year sample (2011–2020) of the Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group (CPS ORG).
- The private sector janitorial industry is staffed primarily by immigrant workers of color. About 83% of private sector janitors are Latinx, Asian American/Pacific Islander or Black. Latinx janitors comprise 70% of the workforce. The vast majority of private sector janitors are middle-aged or older.
- Subcontracting is a widespread practice in the janitorial industry. Nearly 2 in 5 (37%) of private sector janitors work for subcontractors. In other words, they work for firms that contract with building owners and property managers, rather than being hired directly by the owners or tenants of the buildings themselves.
- Almost two-thirds (62%) of private-sector janitors are low-wage earners. The median wage for private sector janitors was $13.51 per hour, lagging far behind the median hourly wage for all private sector workers in California, at $19.32.
- Private sector janitors experience higher rates of poverty, with 40% having family incomes that fall below 200% of the federal poverty line. This is almost twice the rate of California’s private sector workers overall. As a result, private sector janitors are nearly twice as likely to rely on public safety-net programs such as Medi-Cal and Cal-Fresh, with 20% relying on Medi-Cal for health insurance coverage and 16% on CalFresh to access food.
- Across almost all measures of job quality and economic well-being, subcontracted janitors, independent contractors, part-time and female janitors fare significantly worse than the private sector workforce as a whole.
To view the press briefing recording in full, click here.
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About the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund:
The MCTF is a California statewide watchdog organization whose mission is to abolish illegal and unfair business practices in the janitorial industry. The MCTF investigates allegations of employment law violations and partners with local, state, and federal enforcement agencies to hold unscrupulous contractors accountable.
About the UCLA Labor Center:
The UCLA Labor Center believes that a public university belongs to the people and should advance quality education and employment for all. Every day we bring together workers, students, faculty, and policymakers to address the most critical issues facing working people today. Our research, education, and policy work lifts industry standards, creates jobs that are good for communities, and strengthens immigrant rights, especially for students and youth. The UCLA Labor Center is housed in the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, a multidisciplinary research center dedicated to the study, teaching, and discussion of labor and employment issues at UCLA.