The Department of Homeland Security notified ABM Industries, one of the three largest employers of janitors in San Francisco, that it will be verifying the Employment Eligibility Verification forms of the company's 1,000 employees in the city, according to Ashsa Safai, political director for SEIU Local 87 janitor's union. In its internal review of employees' documents, the company found 475 employees with incomplete or incorrect information on the forms. The employees had to turn in clarifications yesterday, and ABM must submit all the paperwork to the feds Wednesday.

According to a blog on, if the workers are found to lack proper documentation, it's just a matter of time before they lose their jobs.

"You're really just shifting people away in the economy," says Safai. "They'll have other people come in and replace them and those 400 [who are fired] will go look for jobs elsewhere."

The janitors had gotten a call just that day from supervisors that Able Janitorial Services, Metro Maintenance, and ABM were letting them off work for an hour for a union event. Arriving at the plaza, they grabbed union-provided pastries and poured coffee into a styrofoam cups, then stood around chatting in an unexpected break from their nightly routine. "They told us to come but I don't know for what," said one older Spanish-speaking woman who says she's cleaned 525 Market for 11 years.

The crowd lit white candles and slapped on "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Now" stickers that they would have to present in order to return to work. Local 87 President Olga Miranda announced that ABM had promised not to not fire one worker or hire another before they get a letter from the feds. ABM has been audited in what opponents call "e-raids" in at least two other cities.

"You fought for this job," Miranda said in Spanish and in English into a microphone powered by a rumbling Honda generator. "You've had this job for 15 years. You've had these benefits for 20 years, and we can't permit them to come take our jobs because of some miserable social security number." The crowd chanted "You hurt one, you hurt everyone!" in Spanish.

The union doesn't check immigration status among its members. One foreman who wished to remain anonymous says that illegal workers often are stepped on by the companies' management. "In the companies, when they know you don't have papers, they give you more time and don't pay overtime."

The vigil was held to show solidarity, but some janitors openly recognized the futility. "We can't fight immigration," one man said. "Some people are not legal here."

Before 10 p.m., the janitors blew out their candles -- though a few folks left theirs burning beside a fountain in the plaza. In groups and alone, they walked away toward their respective buildings, and went back to work.