Photo by Nicole Jennings

Photo by Nicole Jennings

Senate Democrats push safety for sanitation workers

The bill would address concerns over training and access to safety information.

The legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. was more than symbolic this week with the introduction of legislation aimed at protecting Washington state’s sanitation workers.

With the civil rights leader’s eponymous holiday recognized Monday, Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, appealed to King’s legacy when calling for increased workplace safety for commercial janitors. King was supporting a strike by Memphis sanitation workers in 1968 when he was assassinated on a balcony near his motel room.

“Even now, in 2018, sanitation is still a dangerous profession,” Keiser said in a press release. “As we honor the legacy of Dr. King, we all must remember that the struggle for safe working conditions continues.”

Keiser is the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 6227, which would require the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries to conduct a study by the end of 2022 that examines the greatest safety and health risks associated commercial sanitation work.

The bill was inspired by a department work group’s conclusion that janitors are at greater risk of injury than service workers in other industries. The Janitorial Workload, Health, and Safety Work Group found that females, first-year workers and those with a first language other than English filed more compensable claims than all other demographics.

The work group recommended that training and access to safety information be improved, along with identification of safety issues.

SB 6227 received a public hearing in the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee on Monday afternoon.

Lulu Carillo is a janitor at Valley Medical Center in Redmond. At the hearing she said she is encouraged to skip her breaks at work. Carillo said she was diagnosed in 2016 with a growing hernia that required a $70,000 surgery.

Carillo is a member of Service Employees International Union Local 6, the Seattle branch of a union that negotiates compensation and working conditions for service workers. Local 6 Political Director Mauricio Ayon said the Seattle branch represents over 6,000 janitors, security officers and airport workers.

Another member, Kim Lee, said she and many others wouldn’t choose a life in sanitation work if not for Local 6’s efforts in fighting for their safety. Lee works for Pacific Building Services in Tacoma and said she was recently admitted to the hospital because her employer was unable to provide her the safety equipment necessary to mitigate the effects of cleaning chemicals.

“I dance with a mop in 19 full bathrooms every night,” Lee said. “It’s really frustrating when you have to go to work every night knowing you can’t get any help.”

The public testimonies of Lee and others moved committee members to issue statements of their own.

“I’m hoping that we can move a little more quickly in terms of trying to get some standards in this industry to protect these workers,” said Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, who is also a sponsor of Keiser’s bill. “These workers have a right to work in dignified conditions.”

Keiser, who serves as chair of the committee, echoed Conway’s statements and said she was moved by the personal testimonies of those in support of the bill.

“I am proud to sponsor legislation that provides safeguards to our sanitation workers,” the senator said. “The struggle for social justice never ends, and here we are, still trying to make some progress.”

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

More in Northwest

At long last, Edgar Martinez’s waiting game is over. Photo by clare_and_ben/Flickr
Edgar Martinez finally makes the Hall of Fame

In his last year on the ballot, the Mariner legend and greatest designated hitter of all time gets the Cooperstown call.

Residents at SeaTac’s Firs Mobile Home Park received a closure notice for October 31, but most have chosen to stay in their homes. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
South King County coalition targets affordable housing

Rent and housing prices hit south end communities hard; SeaTac, Tukwila, Kent, Burien, Renton and Auburn are working to create organization like Eastside’s ARCH

Microsoft will invest $500 million toward regional housing

Mayors of nine cities — including Auburn, Kent, Federal Way, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Issaquah, Renton and Sammamish — have pledged to help

Exit poll indicates Washington voters still support climate change action

State environmental organizations’ poll points to continuing support for carbon-reducing measures.

Attendees gather after the Dec. 21, 2018, meeting at Seattle’s Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center.
Washington indigenous communities push for action to address violence against women

A new law seeks to strength data collection on missing and murdered indigenous women.

Wikimedia Commons CFCF photo
Proposed law would raise age limit for tobacco sales in WA

Lawmakers cite health concerns over tobacco and vape products

Rape allegation against Sen. Joe Fain divides King County Council

In a recent interview, Councilmember Kathy Lambert blamed Fain’s accuser for the alleged rape. Then Lambert’s colleagues distanced themselves from her comments.

The man on Iron Mountain

Chuck Pillon has been living on a 10-acre junk-filled property near Renton for decades.

Safe consumption part 3: The opposite of addiction

Final episode of our three-part series on controversial supervised consumption sites

Most Read