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Janitorial workers who clean San Diego County Administration Center threaten to strike

They say the company that employs them, Nova Commercial, mistreats them and retaliates against workers who speak up.

Thursday's chanting and marching by union members outside the San Diego County Administration Center has its roots in an incident in November.

“The last two months have been hell. Ever since they found out I was one of the leaders of the union, they have been overworking me,” Sofia Martinez said.

Carlos Castillo
Sofia Martinez is shown at Thursday's rally outside the county administration building on January 19, 2023.
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In November, Martinez said, her employer, Nova Commercial Co., told her to get on her hands and knees and clean part of the basement floor.

She said she was directed to remove wax with noxious cleaning agents with no mask, no gloves, no goggles and no kneepads. She said she got a bloody nose and became nauseous.

She reached her wit's end the next day, when, she said, she was told to keep doing the same thing, but was refused the safety equipment she needed. Shortly after that, she was fired.

Union leaders say it’s not just Martinez.

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“The workers have been put through really retaliatory measures, and two workers have been terminated, and two have quit as a result of the actions of the employer," said David Huerta, president of SEIU United Service Workers West.

Carlos Castillo
Union workers rally outside the San Diego County Administration Center, demanding better working conditions from their employer, Nova Commercial Co., on Jan. 19, 2023.

The janitorial workers who rallied outside the county administration building are members of SEIU United Service Workers West. They’re threatening to strike if Nova doesn’t reinstate the fired workers and improve conditions.

SEUI United Service Workers West Policy Director Christian Ramirez was blunt about what he said will happen to Nova if it did not.

Carlos Castillo
SEIU United Service Workers West Policy Director Christian Ramirez speaks to union workers outside the San Diego County Administration Center on Jan. 19, 2023.

“We’re not gonna take it anymore, and your days in this county are numbered, and we’re gonna make sure you get the hell out of this county," Ramirez said.

The increasing power of unions in San Diego was evident at the rally. Members of every other major union showed up to lend their support.

KPBS reached out to Nova for a comment, but no one got back to us.  They will have to respond to the county, though, which has placed the company under investigation.

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