San Francisco Supervisors to vote on ordinance ensuring high-rise owners comply with ventilation standards

The Salesforce Tower stands tall in downtown San Francisco, looking towards the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors is set to vote on an emergency ordinance on Tuesday that would require owners of high-rise buildings with large office spaces to comply with local ventilation regulations.

The emergency ordinance comes as offices throughout San Francisco began opening up last month, in compliance with state COVID-19 guidelines, and as San Francisco janitors who work in those offices have been calling on building owners and companies to comply with ventilation standards.

The proposed ordinance would only apply to high-rise buildings with 50,000-square feet or more of non-residential floor area that use mechanical ventilation systems. It would also create a system to file complaints with the city's Department of Building Inspection and the city's Department of Public Health if regulations aren't followed.

Last month, more than 700 San Francisco janitors walked off the job to protest unfair labor practices amid ongoing contract negotiations that have last for eight months.

Janitorial workers strike on March 24, 2021 outside the Salesforce Tower (Photo: SEIU Local 87).

The janitors, who are represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 87, work across some 600 buildings throughout the city, including at office spaces leased by tech companies like Google, Facebook and Salesforce. The workers are seeking a contract with their employer ensuring fair pay, seniority rights, safety protections, and compliance with ventilation regulations, including making sure ventilation systems are kept running at night, when janitors tend to work.

Since the onset of the pandemic, more than 3,000 San Francisco janitors have been laid off, meanwhile 26 have died from COVID-19.

"As we move toward re-opening, we must make sure that we prioritize the health and safety of our office workers, of frontline janitors and other essential workers that work in these buildings," Supervisor Ahsha Safai, the author's ordinance, said during a hearing on the matter on Monday during the supervisors' Land Use and Transportation Committee.

"Ventilation is of crucial importance to preventing transmission not just of COVID-19, but of future diseases. We are asking here today that you please support this ordinance and allow it move forward," janitor Jose Soto said Monday. "Owners, building owners and contractors owe it to essential workers and office workers. They want to be able to come back to work but they should not be exposed, it's not safe. Owners should not be allowed to open their buildings without guaranteeing worker safety first."