Janitors at two Irvine Co.– owned commercial properties held protests Monday, May 1, claiming they’re understaffed, overworked and missing breaks as more people return to office work.

While not directly employed by the real estate development firm, they say Irvine Co. should step in to promote the hiring of more janitors to ensure workloads are equitable. The workers — represented by SEIU United Service Workers West — say that would reduce employee burnout and give them more time to properly sanitize the buildings to guard against the spread of COVID-19.

Irvine Co. declined to comment on the janitors’ concerns, but ABM Janitorial Services, which employs many of the workers, issued a statement late Monday afternoon:

“We greatly value the work, dedication, and excellence of our janitorial team members,” the company said. “We are in full compliance with our labor agreements and will continue to work with our union counterparts to resolve any open issues.”

One of Monday’s May 1 protests was held at this Irvine Co.-owned office building in San Diego. (Photo courtesy of SEIU-USWW)

Monday’s protests were held at the Newport Beach office of Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren and at another company-owned office building in San Diego. Their concerns are shared by more than 320 janitors who are employed at Irvine Co.-owned buildings throughout California.

Some claim they have to clean nearly 79,000 square feet of office space per eight-hour shift with just a 30-minute break. That’s the equivalent of cleaning more than 42 average-sized homes per shift, the union said.

“The workloads can be heavy, especially if there are large events going on,” said Rosa Cazares, who works at an office building in San Diego. “My arms ache from picking up so many trash bins. I’m dragging my feet at the end of the day.”

The 53-year-old National City worker said she’s often forced to miss her breaks in order to complete her work.

“They need to hire more people, but ABM recently laid off some employees, and that has increased the amount of work we have to do,” Cazares said.

SEIU-USWW spokesman Sebastian Silva said businesses in the office buildings are also being impacted.

“Tenants who lease space in the buildings are losing out because the buildings aren’t being properly sanitized,” he said.

Luis Fuentes, SEIU-USWW’s regional vice president, said increasing workloads have been an ongoing problem in the janitorial industry, even before the pandemic kicked in.

“For several years we have tried to bargain over these concerns with ABM and other employers at the bargaining table, but they have been unwilling to agree on reasonable terms and continue to withhold information to justify the work that they are assigning,” Fuentes said in a statement.

The janitors’ labor contract will expire April 30, 2024.

Fuentes said some janitors are having their work routes doubled as a result of layoffs, resulting in dangerous working conditions.

“That’s why workers are standing up to demand equitable, safe workloads,” he said.