By Jorge Garcia
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Yolanda Cendejas was let go from her job as a studio janitor on May 5, days after Hollywood writers went on strike, leaving the Los Angeles resident without income and the health insurance she needs to cover treatment for her diabetes.
She was forced to return to her native Mexico in July to have a non-malignant tumor removed.
“You start to think your savings are not great, your medication is expensive, and other expenses to cover are difficult,” said Cendejas, 43. “I feel bad. At night, there are times that yes, I start to think, and it really is sad for me.”
Janitors – like caterers, carpenters and costume workers and other Hollywood trades – have been swept up in the economic downturn that has come with the so-called “hot labor summer” in Hollywood.
Actors, emulating writers’ calls for better compensation and curbs in the use of artificial intelligence, called their strike in mid-July, shutting down most work across the industry.
Cendejas hopes the strikes will end soon, but she is not encouraged by what she has seen. While recovering from her surgery, she embroiders handmade napkins to sell and bring in some income for her home.
“I have faith in God that our job will be returned to us, but as time goes by and we see that there is nothing, we (might) have to look elsewhere,” she said.
Indeed, there are no signs that the strikes will end soon as studios and writers who are in talks appear to be at an impasse. Studios and actors are not in negotiations.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents janitors, recently joined the Writers Guild of America and the SAG-AFTRA actors union at a rally outside Netflix’s offices.
“The truth is I’m behind on my rent and my bills because I can’t pay,” janitor Karla Chavez said on the picket lines.
“I have a husband and he can’t afford it. We both have to work to survive and right now this is affecting us too much. We are going to fall behind and when this is over, we are going to be very in debt.”
Despite the economic pain, David Huerta, the SEIU’s United Service Workers West president, joined the crowd outside Netflix and said his workers were aligned with the other unions because they all depend on studio production.
“The reality is that without a grip, without an actor, without a screenwriter, without a janitor, none of this is possible, right?,” Huerta said.
“And so they’re all interconnected. And all of them have equal value in making sure that this industry continues forward.”
(Reporting by Jorge Garcia; Editing by Mary Milliken and Rosalba O’Brien)
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