Local Janitors Pushing for Living Wages [NUVO – Indy’s Alternative Voice]

Enriqueta Sanchez and hergranddaughter Tiffany squeeze in a quick cuddle during the one-hour break Sanchez has between a day job cleaning hotel rooms and a night job cleaningoffice buildings. —Fran Quigley

Enriqueta Sanchez is hard to catch at home.

I have been told that I will get a chance to talk to her beginning at 4:20 p.m. Sure enough, Sanchez pulls up at 4:19 to the house near Fountain Square she rents along with her three children and four grandchildren. Sanchez’s 2-year-old granddaughter, Tiffany, rushes out to greet her.

Tiffany has limited time with her abuela, since Sanchez will be home for only about an hour. Even though she has just finished a full shift cleaning Downtown hotel rooms, Sanchez’s work day is only half done. After a quick dinner, she will head out the door, drive back Downtown, and go back to work.

This time, Sanchez will clean offices at the 300 North Meridian building, one of the city’s tallest buildings and home to some of the community’s most prestigious law and accounting firms. Sanchez will pick up garbage, mop floors, and vacuum carpets until midnight.

I ask her if she is tired, which seems like a dumb question to pose to someone in the midst of a 70-hour workweek. Sanchez’s daughter is sitting in the next room, and she yells out, “Si!” Sanchez laughs. “Poco,” she says. A little.

But she has no choice, she explains. It takes two jobs to pay the bills. She lists the water bill, the gas bill, rent, electricity, food. The price of everything is going up, she says, but her salary stays the same.

Author Campbell, a union steward for SEIU Local 1, says that paying people a living wage relates to self dignity because it would allow workers to support their families — and stay off public assistance. —Fran Quigley

After six years of working for GSF-USA cleaning office buildings, Sanchez makes $8.90 per hour. According to GSF-USA’s website, its parent company Group Services France employs over 25,000 people worldwide. The company’s most recent reported revenue, for 2008, was over $700 million.

Sanchez is one of 700 Indianapolis janitors who feel that companies like GSF can afford to pay them a better wage, along with providing access to affordable healthcare. The janitors are members of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 1, and they clean the majority of Downtown’s office space, including the offices for Eli Lilly and Company, Simon Property Group, and WellPoint. Like Sanchez, most of the janitors are paid around $9 per hour and are usually given less than 30 hours of work a week. They have no retirement plan.

The union and the contractors were set to begin negotiations on contract terms the week of July 22. GSF did not respond to a phone message and email seeking comment for this article.

Author Campbell works at one of the Eli Lilly buildings, and he is a union steward for SEIU Local 1. A tall, thin African-American man with large glasses, Campbell is in his 60s. When he discusses learning that janitors in other cities are making several dollars more each hour than workers like Sanchez, Campbell shakes his head in disappointment. “We want janitors here to be able to support a family with their work,” Campbell says. “Most of all, it is about self-dignity.”

Union members also argue that Indiana taxpayers are helping subsidize the cleaning companies because the janitors must rely on public assistance programs. Sanchez’s grandchildren are on Medicaid, and Sanchez is among many janitors who use the Wishard-Eskenazi Health clinics or emergency room because they cannot afford the employer’s offered health insurance.

Sanchez feels like she has held up her end of the bargain with her employer. “They want things clean, and I am providing that service,” she says, still bouncing Tiffany on her knee. In return, she is asking that her employer pay a wage that would allow her to pay her bills. With just one job.

One good job would be just fine with her.

by Fran Quigley, July 31, 2013

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