Five days a week, Veronica Ramos-Lopez rides with her coworkers to work as a janitor at Chase Bank’s Polaris offices. She works from 5:30 p.m. until 2 a.m. most nights, cleaning bathroom after bathroom with an arsenal of cleaning chemicals. It’s hard work that doesn’t even offer sick days, meaning that Veronica often has no choice but to work while sick if she falls ill.
Despite hard work from Veronica and her coworkers at Mid-American Cleaning, if another janitor is absent, everyone else’s workload increases – with no extra time allowed to complete it. This not only makes the work harder, but also affects the quality of work janitors are able to perform. Veronica is grateful that she hasn’t had an injury on the job yet, but wonders if it may only be a matter of time.
Veronica’s story is too common among working people in Columbus. Columbus janitors are among the thousands of working people in our city who can work full time and still qualify for public assistance. Despite the city’s wealth, janitors are paid only $10 per hour, meaning that most full-time janitors receive less than $19,000 each year – well below the poverty level for a family of three.
This stands in stark contrast with the city’s Fortune 1000 CEOs whose offices the janitors clean: in 2011, eleven Fortune 1000 CEOs headquartered in Columbus took home a combined $134 million in pay. In an economy as healthy as Columbus’s, there is no excuse for poverty to exist among hard-working families.
The injustice evident here is not lost on Veronica, who lives with some of her coworkers in an attempt to make ends meet. She has an eight-year-old daughter who qualifies for Medicaid and a nineteen-year-old son who works in a factory nearby because he can’t afford to go to college.
With the janitors’ contract now being renegotiated, Veronica knows that if she and her coworkers do not receive raises as they have in the past, paying for rent and the increased cost of groceries will be next to impossible. Already, her rent and bills take up about half of her paycheck, leaving little for groceries and clothing for her growing son and daughter. Her dream of sending her children to college may be out of reach if corporate leaders don’t stand up for family-sustaining wages across Columbus.