'We answered the call': Custodial and sanitation workers demand support amid outbreak

'Everything I come in contact with I bring home to my son and my fiancée. I have a child to raise, and I want to be here to raise him,' one worker said.

4/1/2020 8:01:00 AM

'We don't get the recognition, but we still want to be respected,' Tracey Thornhill said. 'We still want to be treated like human beings. We don't want to be treated like trash. We were told we are essential. We answered the call.'

'Everything I come in contact with I bring home to my son and my fiancée. I have a child to raise, and I want to be here to raise him,' one worker said.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP"We're important. We know it. I think after this dies down, the rest of the world will know, too," said Derrick Fields, 50, the head custodian at Medina Middle School in Columbus, Ohio.On a call on Tuesday, AFSCME President Lee Saunders put some of the blame on President Donald Trump, who he said had waited much too long to use the Defense Production Act to accelerate manufacturing of protective gear that could help workers.

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"They deserve support. They deserve respect. They deserve leadership from the White House that is as competent and compassionate as they are," Saunders said."They deserve gloves and gowns, masks and swabs, respirators and ventilators so they can get the job done safely right now when we need that professionalism and expertise more than ever."

For people like Fields, while his school may have closed, the work hasn't concluded. He's disinfecting hundreds of Google Chromebooks for students who are homebound, as well as keeping the school building free of the disease for all who have to come through.

Other custodians in the district are helping to prepare meals for kids who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, but they're doing it with a third of the workforce after the school district laid off a large chunk of the staff a few years ago.

"The needs didn't shrink. The size of the building didn't shrink," Fields said."We're expected to do the same amount of work with less people in the same amount of hours. The physics don't work."But it's not just the people who are keeping buildings clean who are putting themselves at risk.

Download theNBC News appfor full coverage and alerts about the coronavirus outbreakTracey Thornhill, 54, is pre-diabetic but still drives a garbage truck each day through the streets of Atlanta. The difference now is that he's doing it with little to no protective gear.

Thornhill said that as efforts to address the pandemic ramped up, sanitation workers' typically easy access to hand sanitizers, masks and disinfectant wipes completely dried up. They're now handed two or three disinfectant wipes to last them an entire shift.

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"We walk around and try to stay 6 feet away from each other," he said of himself and his co-workers."But everything I come in contact with I bring home to my son and my fiancée. I have a child to raise, and I want to be here to raise him."

Read more: NBC News »

👍 It’s a hard job under the best of circumstances. Now they are at risk while protecting us. Thank you. Agree is about time! Thank you for your hard unnoticed work! I for one want to thank you for being there when needed and not saying no to helping. Thank you. Lol MSNBC gonna MSNBC... What were MSNBC’s favorite problems during math class... Subtraction and Division...

Wow! Heart breaks. 🤦🏾‍♂️🤦🏾‍♂️. Our amazing govt 💞💖💗 Absolutely! Without these folks putting in work this COVIDー19 COVID19Pandemic would spread faster. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are helping us all! Good they have enough 'privilege' to demand better conditions. They feel safe speaking up! Compared to farmworkers who feed every corner of the country who wouldn't dare demand any form of protection under fear of losing the pennies tossed at them for their backbreaking labor.

They should get hazard pay for what they do.keepit clean I have been a homemaker for decades. I appreciate everyone who cleans! It's hard, neverending, yet very important work imo. You are No. 1. Thank God kids aren’t in school. It would be constant scrubbing. Your role in a pandemic may be the most essential. Godspeed.

If you are interested in a sugar daddy inbox me. I’m looking for a real sugar baby. No time for games please They are essential and should be appreciated and given proper protection. Thanks for all your hard work!! We couldn’t do our job without you. Christin210 Trump made American a sh*thole country.

Please give to the thank you 😔😔 damn ❤❤❤ After the virus is gone your expendable mchslang21 Some custodians/ janitors are still expected to continue their job to fulfill the health requirements of hospitals, regardless of the employee’s families. It seems impossible to keep everyone safe while keeping operations like hospitals clean & functional.

That's absolutely right! Nobody in a country like the US should be working in en environment where there is a possibility of infection without some form of basic PPE at this time. It’s a disgrace. God bless these Angel's You are essential. Thank You. Please join me in acknowledging these real heroes, thanking them and applauding what they do for us! ThanksAMillion 🙏🏼

Absolutely, you keep us clean I make it a point to shout out my appreciation to any delivery driver, grocery store worker, cleaning person, and postal worker I see these days. WeSeeTheHeroes

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