Community Cleaners Makes Social Justice Its Business
Social Justice Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic
|Johnny and Marie Justice founded Community Cleaners as a vehicle
to carry their social justice work into their everyday lives.
having this commercial cleaning business as a way to help the community and give people work. And it snowballed from there.”
Five years later, the Justices now own Commercial Cleaners, a business that supports them and their social justice ideals.
“During this time, during the pandemic, our commercial cleaning business, which is a female, Black-owned commercially business that is a morally targeted
company,” Justice emphasized. “We hire and have people of color who work for us. We pay sustainable wages. And we treat people with respect and really value
the work that they do because this is essential work as you can see. The funny thing is that prior to this pandemic, we had been doing this work. And all along while
we were running this company, which is a morally-conscious effort in employing people and giving them sustainable and much needed work. It’s just become that
much more important during this pandemic when things are so uncertain. And we are also essential. We’re keeping people safe. We’re keeping our clients and the
organizations that we serve safe. It’s kind of like a full-circle moment for us and work that most people don’t know that we are doing. A lot of people ask, ‘Oh, when is
your next film coming out? What are you doing?’ And we reply, ‘We’re working on that, but all along, we’ve had this commercial cleaning business that really means a
lot to us.’ And we really value the people who work with us.”
When the pandemic hit, like many other minority-owned, small businesses, the Justices were out of the loop when it came to seeking a SBA PPP loan.
“We weren’t able to apply for PPP initially,” Justice said. “At first, we were kind of shut out. We were a small business. We didn’t have access immediately. Some of
the bigger banks weren’t prioritizing small businesses. Initially we didn’t have a path. And it looked pretty dire at first. But luckily, I put something out there into the
community again, which has always been such a resource for us. And someone responded back and said, ‘Hey, there are smaller banks that are prioritizing minority-
owned and small businesses.’ Through that, we were able to get the help and kept our workforce intact.”
And while most of their cleaning clients shut down last March when the lockdowns began, their business expanded in other areas.
“One of our clients, the YWCA of Madison, never shut down because they do such essential work and cannot close, ended up needing us for more services,” Justice
said. “We were able to bring in more folks and get more work to the people who work for us already. It’s been really great to just continue on the path of providing
employment and career-growth opportunities and sustainable work as well as providing a really important service during this time. As I said before, we are a morally-
conscious commercial cleaning company. Our motto is ‘You’re Only as Good as the Folks Who Work for You.’ We have all of the great equipment. We use the right
products. We’re very conscious about our protocols and how to actually sanitize and disinfect and do things right. But that is only as good as the people who have to
do the work. What we really value doing is empowering the people who work for us and treating them really well and giving them the tools they need to perform and
And do to their environmental – green commitment during normalcy, they were readily able to adapt to the new protocols.
“We already had an environmental health & safety expert on our staff who was right there to swoop in,” Justice said. “We had already been going through a lot of
protocols in general with this individual who is on our management team. He had been ramping up our company with protocols. When the pandemic happened, it was
so incredibly nice to have him on staff. He was able to put together a 24-48 hour emergency cleaning protocol. We comply with everything from the CDC to the EPA in
terms of cleaning products. And having that expert on our team really did help. We retrained everyone so that they could really respond in the case of an emergency
or an isolated case. It was exactly what we prepared for and ended up having to do. Our clients had had isolated cases and we have been able to go in there and
respond and keep people safe and the facilities clean.”
It also meant some extra spending in order to keep their staff safe at all times.
“Yes, our crews wear all the proper PE that we supply them with, based on the location and any specific situation that they are servicing,” Justice said. “They're
mostly using medical grade masks and gloves, however, whenever we have a location with an isolated outbreak we provide full body, hazmat suits and goggles.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance that front-line workers play in our lives and they are not always adequately compensated for it.
“Part of the issue with the commercial cleaning industry is its overworked and underpaid individuals who are doing the work,” Justice observed. “And so our
services, while we like to think they are somewhat competitive, we’re not going to give a low-ball a low-ball contract or quote. We’re telling you what it is going to
take. We’re being very realistic and we’re making sure that the people who are doing it are compensated for the hard work that they are doing. And so our services,
in general, aren’t super-expensive or astronomical, but they are reasonable considering that we’re offering sustainable work to people so that they can do a great job
in your facility. And we know that we can back-up what we’re saying. Other than making sure that we are getting EPA-approved cleaners that sometimes can cost a
little bit more, we really value doing a really great job and you can’t low-ball that.”
The pandemic has also pointed out how a good cleaning service is to the overall work of people deemed to be essential workers. Good cleaning people are essential
By Jonathan Gramling
About five years ago, Johnny and Marie Justice were looking around and doing odd jobs to
support themselves as they pursued their passion of creating videos and documentaries to
further the social justice causes that they believed in, much like an artist becomes a teacher
to allow them to pursue their artistic passion. The Justices got a gig keeping a parking lot
“When we started, Johnny and I were doing this work,” Marie Justice said. “We were like,
‘We’ll do this and then we’ll go do our film work.’ When we started doing it, we were like,
‘Wait a minute. This could be really sustainable work for people.’ We were just so proud. I kid
you not. One of our first clients was an outdoor parking lot. We picked up the litter and
changed the garbage cans. And I would be jumping inside of a dumpster to break the
cardboard down. I was just so proud of our company. And we were keeping something clean.
And we were getting rid of litter. It just felt really good to be doing a good community service.
And it was our company. And a lightbulb went off one day as we were talking with our friends
who would do the lot for us every once in a while. They said, ‘This isn’t bad work. I could do
this. Why aren’t you expanding it?’ It just didn’t dawn on me, but now that I thought about it, it
could be really good work. We could do something different. And we could be a different type
of company. And we wouldn’t have to treat people poorly and pad our pockets. And we could
provide sustainable jobs for people. And that sounded exciting. We never thought about
“We’re talking about doctors and nurses and all of these very important
essential workers who are on the front lines,” Justice said about people
traditionally thought of as essential workers. “But the forgotten ones are
the folks who are cleaning those hospitals and cleaning those spaces.
They are going in there day in and day out. They are keeping people safe.
Cleaning has always been important and essential. We know that as a
commercial cleaning company. And that’s why we value the folks who
work for us and we really try to educate the folks who hire us too.
‘Cleaning is very important and it does keep you safe and it does need to
be done right and you do need people who are well-trained and are
supported and paid well so that they want to do a good job.’ Everything
that we had been doing and preaching and practicing in our work really
came true. You want people who are going to do a good job because it
does keep you safe.”
And Community Cleaners keeps people safe because they know that the
people who work for them have the incentive needed to do the best job
that they can.
“We promote career pathways and career growth,” Justice said. “It’s not
a job that you use until you can move on — and in some cases, perhaps
that’s it — but if you want to move up in the company, if you want to
continue the work, there are opportunities for that. And yes, I do find that
when you are making an effort and viewing your employees as valuable
contributors to your company and people who can not only grow your
company, but also grow themselves, they’ll stay with your company. And
we are working together. This is a group effort. We always talk about our
teams. This ours, this is everyone’s. We’re working together. When you
enjoy the work that you do and feel valued and respected and treated
fairly and well, of course, you are going to do a much better job. Richard
Branson said, ‘Train people well enough so they can leave; treat them
well enough so that they don’t want to.’”
Johnny and Marie Justice are hoping that Community Cleaners can help
change the perception of the commercial cleaning sector and get people
to realize how trained people earning a sustainable wage and respected
for the role they play will go a long ways in keeping the community
healthy. Not only is it social justice, it also just makes good business
For more information about Community Cleaners, visit www.
communitycleaners.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call