On Tuesday, the community-activist group 1Miami is rallying at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami to call on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour ($7.67/hour in Florida) to an even $10/hour. The following is a joint op-ed by Wynwood resident Juana Reyes and Overtown resident Karla Silva, who work as janitors downtown and will be participating in the rally.
In the news, we see many stories about the big companies whose offices we clean in the Southeast Financial Center in downtown Miami.
In the news, we see many stories about the big companies whose offices we clean in the Southeast Financial Center in downtown Miami. Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase are some of richest businesses in the world. JPMorgan Chase, which runs the company that owns the Southeast Financial Center, has so much money that it lost billions in one day two months ago. That same month we were fighting to get a few thousand dollars in back wages that were owed to us for cleaning the offices of the building JPMorgan owns.
Many people that work in the Southeast Financial Center don’t see our face or hear our voice. But everyday, when they come into a clean office, they see our work. While the bank is making and losing billions of dollars, we only want to make enough to support our families. Many of us make minimum wage ($7.67/hour in Florida) and some of us will only make $12,000 in one year. If you live in Miami, you know that rent will cost at least $9,000 a year if you are lucky. Some people that work the high-paying jobs in our building probably have sick days, paid holidays, and overtime pay. Although we should have some of those things, we don’t, even after working in the same building for 16 years.
One of our co-workers needed money to pay for a $1,000 hearing device for her daughter. She just couldn’t afford it and still pay the rent. Can you imagine having to choose between paying your rent and your daughter’s health? We don’t have to imagine it because that is our reality.
For most people, holidays are a time for celebration. For us they are a time to celebrate but also a time that we don’t get paid. Even overtime, which the law says is our right, is treated like a privilege. In order to get the money that the company owes us, we have to file a complaint with the Labor Department.
Many of our co-workers are facing the same treatment at work, but they are afraid to speak out because they may lose their jobs and won’t be able to feed their families. But we aren’t afraid. In June, we went to the shareholders meeting that JPMorgan Chase held in Tampa, Florida. We wanted to talk to JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and tell him what was happening in our building. This meeting was right after so many people were saying bad things about Jamie Dimon in the news. But to be honest, when he heard about how janitors are being treated in the Southeast Financial Center, he listened respectfully. It was a very emotional moment for us, but we finally felt like our voice was being heard.
Months later, our struggle for dignity still continues. We still haven’t been paid what is owed to us by our bosses, JPMorgan Chase is still in the news for how much money it lost and the minimum wage is still not enough to survive on. The strange thing is, people still don’t know how much JPMorgan Chase lost — $2 billion? $5 billion? More? We know exactly how much we lost, how much is owed to us, and how much rent, food, or health care it can pay for.
When we first heard those numbers, billions of dollars, we could only think of how hard our friends have fought to get a few thousand dollars back and get paid a little more than minimum wage. We are amazed that anyone can have the privilege to lose that much money in one day while we are here struggling for the basic right to get paid enough to support ourselves and work with dignity. Sometimes we wonder what is wrong with this world, but we just move on and fight for justice.
To learn more about the 1Miami rally for a higher minimum wage, visit onemiaminow.org.