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Friday, August 5, 2011

Window Cleaners: How Much Do They Earn?

Posted By on Fri, Aug 5, 2011 at 7:25 AM

click to enlarge Was this trip really necessary?
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"Equipment Failure" Nearly Killed Two Window Washers -- Despite Recent Inspection

In the pre-Internet days, randy young men fantasized about the joys of being a window cleaner -- where all you do is spy on nubile young women all the livelong day.

That and nearly fall to your death, as a pair of San Francisco window washers employed by Capital Building Maintenance did yesterday. Just how much are window cleaners paid to undertake a vertigo-inducing job where minor mishaps can translate into a nightmarish death?

Less than you'd think. Jason Trobaugh, the owner of Clear View Window Cleaning, says most nonunion San Francisco washers are earning $15 to $17 an hour. Eric Huber, the owner of Capital Building Maintenance, says his union employees take home more than $20 an hour.

Huber called yesterday's incident at 300 Berry in SOMA an "equipment failure." The building-mounted arms that hold the washers' scaffold and lower it are called davits, and the left davit's weld to the structure apparently failed yesterday. The davit crashed 17 stories to the courtyard below; secured by only one rope, the washers' scaffold went vertical. Had they not been wearing safety harnesses, they would have fallen along with the davit.

Prior to the washers taking the weeks-long job, a third party -- hired by building management -- was required to inspect the facilities and present the window washing company with a certificate, Huber says. "I am sure that inspector will be in hot water," he continues. SF Weekly's calls to the Arterra, Mission Bay LLC, the corporation that owns the building, have not yet been returned. 

Veteran window washers Raul Aguilar and his nephew, Benito Aguilar, were hospitalized. Huber visited them and predicted both would be up and about within days. 

Surely there must be some sort of state certification involved before you dangle off a highrise, saved only by your safety harness -- right?

Actually, no. Unlike, say,truck drivers, window cleaners are not

regulated by the state. "You need to be trained by an experienced and

competent window cleaner -- a very detail-oriented person," says

Trobaugh. You need to follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and American National Standards Institute

requirements. But you don't need to take a course with an OSHA or ANSI


Union washers, meanwhile, typically serve as apprentices for

nine months before becoming journeymen. 

In his 18 years rappeling down buildings, Trobaugh can't recall any fellow cleaners dying on the job in San Francisco. The statistics back him up: "Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations" die at a rate of 5.8 for every 100,000 workers. This is a fairly low fatal injury rate for a job with such an obvious safety element.

Finally, in his time dangling off skyscrapers, Troubaugh hasn't seen any naked ladies, either. "No, no, no," he says with a laugh. "My guys have seen a couple of naked guys, though. Just sipping coffee, standing there, butt naked." 

Note: This article originally incorrectly listed the building's owner

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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