Esmeralda Perez knows that keeping buildings clean isn’t easy. The mother of three has worked as a janitor at Chase Bank’s offices in Polaris for the past seven years, and before that, she worked as a housekeeper.
Her day begins at 5:30 pm and ends at 2 am, long after the office workers have gone to sleep. Each day she cleans bathrooms with hazardous chemicals that require her to wear a mask, goggles and gloves.
To make matters worse, if one of her coworkers misses work, Esmeralda’s workload increases – with no extra time allotted to compensate for it. No matter how much cleaning there is to be done, she and her coworkers only get 8 hours, plus a half-hour meal break. The resulting workload puts significant strain on Esmeralda’s back, and there are days she can barely work through the pain.
Esmeralda estimates that over 40% of her income goes toward paying rent, with much of the rest of her income spent on essentials for her children., Her employer, Mid-American Cleaning, does not provide family health insurance, so her five-year-old daughter qualifies for Medicaid, but supporting her is still a struggle as she grows. Her oldest child is trying to start college, too, making her finances even tighter as she tries to help him get an education.
Corporations in the area are prospering – JP Morgan Chase paid its CEO $23 million in 2011, and eleven Fortune 1000 CEOs headquartered in Columbus took home over $134 million in pay. Unfortunately, while Columbus’s unemployment rate remains well below the national average, the poverty rate in our city has nearly doubled in the past 10 years. This is because more and more jobs in our city don’t pay a living wage. In a city home to hundreds of millions of dollars in profits each year, most full-time janitors are paid less than $19,000 annually, meaning that many qualify for government assistance.
Esmeralda has hope, both for herself and for her coworkers. She knows that raising standards will help everyone – and will also help secure a better future for her children.