Author Campbell has something to say to Indianapolis citizens who are concerned about poverty in our city: “Let’s make the jobs we have pay a wage that allows a family to afford the costs of living.”
Campbell works cleaning an Eli Lilly and Co. building, and he is a steward for SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 1. The union represents a group of 700 local workers who clean the majority of downtown Indianapolis’ office space, including the offices for Eli Lilly, Simon Property Group and WellPoint.
Most of these janitors are paid around $9 per hour by contractors, and are usually given less than 30 hours a week of work. They have no retirement plan.
Campbell and other union leaders began negotiations with the contractors this week.
“We want janitors here to be able to support a family with their work,” Campbell says, pointing out that janitors in other cities often make several dollars per hour more than their counterparts in Indianapolis. “We want better wages and health care that is affordable.”
Some Indianapolis janitors have to work two jobs to make ends meet. Enriqueta Sanchez works one job during the day and at night cleans 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 picks up garbage, mops floors and vacuums carpets until midnight. It is an exhausting double-shift routine, but she sees no other choice. With low wages, it takes two jobs to pay the bills.
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 more than 25,000 people worldwide. The company’s most recent reported revenue, for 2008, was more than $700 million. GSF did not respond to a phone call and email seeking comment for this article.
Union members also argue that Indiana taxpayers are helping subsidize these cleaning companies by footing the bill for their employees’ health care. 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.
Campbell says the workers’ concerns are not just about the numbers on the paycheck. They want to be recognized for their work in a way that allows them to care for themselves and their loved ones, something he says every working person deserves. “Most of all, it is about self-dignity,” Campbell says.