Healthcare workers are praised as pandemic heroes—but what about janitors?

Janitors custodians coronavirus
Photo via TheInvertedFan/Flickr (Public Domain)
  • Professional cleaners are at enhanced risk of catching COVID-19
  • They keep hospitals and businesses clean and work extended hours
  • At times, they are not provided with adequate PPE or raised pay

The coronavirus pandemic has been dominating headlines and conversations around the world for months. Doctors and nurses fighting on the frontlines of the pandemic are well deserving of their status as heroes, but a few unsung warriors are going unnoticed, as recognized by USA Today. Janitors and other professional cleaners are keeping our businesses, hospitals, and homes safe and virus free, often without any recognition—or even proper personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Janitors across the nation have been deemed essential in the fight against COVID-19. While janitorial workers continue to clock in for their shifts, Time reports that many never received training on how to clean during the coronavirus pandemic. They are unsure of not only what measures to take to ensure an area is clear of any potential virus but also how to protect themselves while doing so. Large cleaning companies, in some cases, are not providing any additional hand sanitizer or masks to help offset the risk to employees.

To top it off, many professional cleaners are accepting this increased workload, along with the increased risk, all without seeing any change in pay, according to Al-Jazeera. Despite their status as essential workers and the extreme risk some janitors take on, many continue to make the minimum wage in their states. In some cases, that can be as low as $7.25 per hour. Healthcare is often not included in their contracts. The already difficult job—when stacked with the necessity of a mask, unsafe conditions, and not enough supplies—is becoming all the more challenging. 

“No one is thinking about custodians at all,” Luis Padella, a hospital janitor in California, told USA Today. “People have no idea what we do. We’re not just picking up trash.”

“We’re heroes too,” he continued. “We’d like to have some recognition also. And we’d love to get hazard pay.”

Access to protective gear is necessary for anyone coming into close contact with virus-contaminated areas. For staff working at hospitals, every area is potentially contaminated. Workloads have gone up as cleaning standards have skyrocketed, but proper protection continues to fall to the wayside. Training, too, hasn’t been updated as we learn more about COVID-19. Some janitors are told to treat the virus as they would the flu, despite concrete evidence that COVID-19 is a far more contagious—and deadly—virus. 

While their workload and risk are a constantly changing landscape, one thing stays constant for many janitorial workers: a lack of respect. Despite our enhanced reliance on professional cleaners, many continue to be treated poorly by the populace at large. These unsung heroes make it safe for us to go about our lives but are often looked down upon by the very people they show up to protect. 

Sources: Al Jazeera, USA Today, CBS Denver, Aftermath, Time

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