“We are going to keep fighting. We are still in the struggle.” — Carolina Sanchez
In Spanish, Carolina Sanchez ticks off the long list of her nightly duties as a janitor in the downtown One North Capitol building. “I clean the bathrooms and a kitchen area, I mop the floors, I clean counters and sinks. I do the vacuuming and dusting, and when I am finished, I take out the garbage,” she says.
For this decidedly laborious labor, usually performed in the wee hours, the 55-year-old Sanchez and other local janitors are paid anywhere from $5.50 to $7.50 per hour, well below the poverty level. Like most janitors, Sanchez has no health insurance. She has stopped going to the doctor because she can’t afford it.
Last year, as part of a nationwide effort by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Sanchez and 40 other Indianapolis janitors went on strike to demand better wages and benefits from Group Services France (GSF), the largest cleaning company for Indianapolis office buildings.
“A lot of people told the workers they would not win this,” says Rebecca Maran, Justice for Janitors’ lead organizer. “They were told this is not a union town, and you have to just take whatever the company gives you, even if they are not following the rules.”
But the janitors launched lively purple-shirted tub-thumping downtown pickets, and gained momentum from widespread community support expressed by elected officials, clergy and other labor unions. In November, when GSF agreed to allow Sanchez and more than 400 other janitors to seek union representation, the janitors achieved one of the most significant labor victories in recent Indiana history.
Sanchez and Maran are quick to point out that the local Justice for Janitors campaign found its beginning, not its end, with the GSF victory. They talk of non-GSF janitors who were recently fired after complaining about being paid sub-minimum wage for cleaning a downtown office building, and others who travel in the middle of the night to clean far-Northside office parks for $6 an hour.
Sanchez vows not to leave behind these other janitors seeking justice. “We are going to keep fighting,” she says. “We are still in the struggle.”
— Fran Quigley