Who’s Cleaning Twitter?

28 Feb 2023

Today we hear from Twitter’s former cleaners, a group of unionized workers who are wondering who replaced them. Dozens of workers rallied last month at Twitter offices in San Francisco and New York to demand their jobs back, and they called on allies for support. If you can provide any information about the new (scab) cleaning company that Twitter contracted to replace these workers, email us at twcnewsletter@protonmail.com.

A group of workers in yellow rain jackets holing a banner in one hand that says hashtag justice for janitors and all raising their other fist high, standing in front of the NYC Twitter building and its logo on the wall in the background

Fired Twitter cleaners won't let Musk keep them down. Photo by Raksha Muthukumar.

The Worker’s Perspective

On behalf of the fired Twitter cleaners of 32BJ SEIU in NYC and SEIU Local 87 in San Francisco

Twitter is a mess lately.

In San Francisco, Twitter’s office ran so low on supplies that employees brought their own toilet paper. False scarcity from missing toilet paper to janitorial staff job cuts create fear and division across the software industry and everything it touches. As tech companies laid off almost 80,000 workers last month, these conditions also reflect the tensions between executives and their workers.

So, who’s cleaning Twitter these days? It’s not the unionized workers of 32BJ SEIU in NYC and SEIU Local 87 in San Francisco.

“Without this job and the union health benefits I would be thousands of dollars in debt from medical bills,” said Merita Gashi, a fired janitor, to a crowd in front of Twitter’s NYC office. “I know what it is like to work as a non-union cleaner. I can’t go back to that.”

Merita and her daughter Pajtesa shared their family’s experience after Merita and her coworkers lost their jobs as cleaners at Twitter. They were given notice by a single email through their supervisor near the end of their shift, informing them to finish, and not return to work. Merita is a single mother supporting 4 children and her elderly father. She worked to keep Twitter’s NYC offices safe and clean since 2015. But 2 weeks before Christmas, after almost 3 years on the frontlines of pandemic safety, she and her coworkers were fired.

“We work to support our families, we work to have healthcare – the same things as everyone else,” said Pajtesa. “Everybody – everybody – has to go to the doctor. How would anybody feel if this was their own family?”

Both San Francisco and New York City mandate workplace protections for cleaning staff. Under New York’s Displaced Building Service Workers Protection Act, incoming cleaning contractors must retain cleaners employed by an outgoing contractor for a transition period to prevent workers from experiencing this type of abrupt displacement. If any professional cleaning is taking place currently in Twitter’s New York offices, the company would be in violation of the Act.

So, fired cleaners demanding their union jobs back need info about the new cleaning company that Twitter contracted to replace them. Send tips to twcnewsletter@protonmail.com.

“If there is cleaning taking place in that building these workers have a right to that work,” said 32BJ SEIU Secretary-Treasurer John Santos. “We are going to make sure those rights – that unionized office cleaners in this state worked hard to secure – are honored. These workers put their lives on the line to keep workers and the public safe throughout the pandemic and are essential to the city’s economic recovery. These union members and their families now face extreme hardship.”

In San Francisco, officials are investigating Elon Musk for repeated claims of worker mistreatment. “Elon Musk has had a long history of flouting labor laws,” San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu said. “We’re going to be investigating what has happened here.”

While Musk began his reign at Twitter by firing nearly 50% of the company’s entire workforce, workers with the most to lose bore the brunt of typical corporate acquisition logic. Unlike Twitter’s engineers, janitors were not offered any severance package, said SEIU Local 87 union president Olga Miranda. “We’re out of a job and this is nothing more than an assault on working families that are represented by contracts,” she said. “We didn’t pick a fight with [Elon Musk]. He picked a fight with us.”

Julio Alvarado, another fired janitor, was told that he’d be replaced by robots. “We have [union] cleaners at Facebook, cleaners at Google, at Microsoft,” said 32BJ SEIU vice-president, Kevin Brown. “That’s why we’re here. To make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“They did this three weeks before Christmas,” said Olga Miranda. “I think we were fired because we’re a union.” Twitter, along with many other tech companies, is cracking down on union activity, following a major upswing in tech labor organizing. In many tech offices, cleaners and cafeteria workers are some of the only unionized workers, but that has been changing in recent years as a wider range of tech workers join contractors and gig workers in solidarity for workers rights. To CEOs like Elon Musk, nothing is more threatening than his workers standing with each other against his efforts to divide them.

In closing out her speech to the fired up community of supporters and workers, Juana Laura, another fired janitor, reminds us:

“Sabemos los derechos son los que nosotros contamos tenemos un unión que nos respalda políticos los medios que gracias a dios ellos están encargados de que todo Estados Unidos o el mundo entero sepan la manera en que estamos siendo desalojados de nuestros trabajo. Vamos a estar allá día y noche hasta que sean respetadas nuestras peticiones. En final, nuestra historia lo vamos a escribir nosotros, no ellos.”

“We know the rights that we can count on. We have the media that is backing us up politically. Thank god the media have made themselves responsible for letting the US and the rest of the world know that we are being let go from our jobs. We’ll fight every day and keep going day and night until they meet our demands. In the end, we are going to be the ones who are going to write our history, not them.”

Thank you to TWC for amplifying this story, and for spreading the word to current and former Twitter coworkers and all people in software. Thank you especially to Raksha Muthukumar for showing up in NYC, talking with us, and compiling this story.


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“Palo Alto” book talk, this Thursday

Come learn about Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and The World. RSVP at http://bit.ly/twcpaloalto. Can’t wait? Can’t make the time? Watch the 2min book trailer or listen to this 45min interview.