Miami’s billion-dollar commercial real estate industry ranks 12th in the US, but 57% of office janitors live below or near poverty, 69% are rent burdened, 33% rely on government programs like SNAP
(Miami, FL) A new report released by 32BJ SEIU and the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) shows office cleaners in Miami are the lowest paid in all major US cities. Earning a median wage of just $8.50 an hour, Miami’s ranks at the very bottom in Florida and among large major US metro areas in janitorial wages.
“I have diabetes and I have to ration my insulin because I make so little,” said Elsa Romero, a janitor who says she tries not to burden her two grown daughters. “I go to bed every night and pray to God that I’ll wake up. I get scared that something will happen to me and I’ll leave my daughters behind. It’s not fair that I work so hard and I can’t even afford my most basic needs.”
Like the majority of Miami’s office cleaners, Elsa is a subcontracted janitor. She cleans the luxury offices at the Miami Tower, but is employed by their cleaning contractor, SFM Cleaning Services. According to the report, 89% of large office buildings outsource their cleaning jobs to low bid contractors, who often cut corners and reduce wages and benefits in order to win business.
“My knees are worn out because I’m standing all day and night. I work two jobs during the week and clean houses on the weekend because my salary isn’t enough,” said Manuel Moreno, a janitor for Coastal Building Maintenance (CBM). “I don’t have sick days or any other benefits. Two months ago, my knees swelled up, which makes it difficult for me to walk, but I don’t have the option of taking a few days off. I would like to work for a responsible company that values the work that we do, that understands that we’re human beings and not machines.”
The janitors who clean South Florida’s most valuable office buildings and maintain property values for investors are some of the most exploited workers in the real estate industry. A full 79% of subcontracted office janitors are immigrants in an industry where poverty, sexual harassment, wage theft, workplace intimidation, and abuse are endemic. 57% live below or near the federal poverty level, 69% are rent burdened with a full one third spending half their income on rent, and 33% relying on government assistance programs like SNAP to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, Miami is the 12th most valuable commercial real estate market in the country and continues to attract major institutional investors. In 2018, 67% of office buildings purchased in Miami were real estate investment trusts (REITs) which typically manage billions of assets. The top three entities affiliated with commercial office space in Miami and Broward are TIAA, Deustche Bank, and Ponte Gadea, a private investment firm controlled by Amancio Ortega, the owner of Zara and the 6th richest man in the world. Together, the market value of their South Florida office assets total $1.62 billion.
The newly launched Justice for Janitors campaign in South Florida, whose goal it is to unionize thousands of office cleaners, aims to reverse this destructive trend and raise industry standards that will benefit janitors and the local economy.
With over 175,000 members in 11 states and Washington D.C., 32BJ SEIU is the largest property services union in the country.