On Tuesday, Adriana Vasquez sat to the left of the table where JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon testified before the House Financial Services Committee for two hours. A 37-year-old janitor and a single mother of three, she had traveled from her home in Houston to Washington, DC, to ask Dimon one simple question.
When the hearing adjourned, she crossed to talk to him.
Vasquez is accustomed to speaking to executives at the JPMorgan Chase Tower where she works, so she wasn’t intimidated. But she says she “felt strange” as she approached the table.
“I’m not used to being in that environment—surrounded by cameras and journalists,” Vasquez tells me through an interpreter. “It’s chaotic. But when it came time to ask the question I didn’t feel strange at all. He’s a person, just like me—the only difference is he has money, and I don’t.”
She stood before Dimon and asked: “Despite making billions last year, why do you deny the people cleaning your buildings a living wage?”
Vasquez says Dimon’s entourage reacted “as if I had a weapon on me,” quickly surrounding him.
“Call my office,” Dimon replied, before being ushered toward the exit.
Vasquez had wanted to add “walk a day in my shoes,” but didn’t get a chance. That’s exactly what Vasquez and over 3,000 of her colleagues in Houston are asking building owners and cleaning contractors to do as they consider the janitor’s demand for a raise to $10 an hour over the next three years.
The janitors are currently paid an hourly wage of $8.35 and earn an average of $8,684 annually, despite cleaning the offices of some of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world—Chevron, ExxonMobil, Wells Fargo, Shell, JPMorgan Chase and others in the “City of Millionaires.” The cleaning contractors have countered with an offer of a $0.50 pay raise phased in over five years.
Vasquez says she doesn’t think people realize just how hard their work is. She cleans twenty-four bathrooms on eleven floors, from 5:30 to 11:30 pm, five evenings a week. She describes the work this way: before clocking in, she makes sure her cart is stocked with chemicals and supplies. After clocking in, she literally runs up to the floor if the tenants aren’t around.
“It’s like a marathon, and there just isn’t enough time,” she says. “Once I go in I have only five hours to clean eleven floors of bathrooms. That’s one male and one female bathroom on each floor, four toilets in each bathroom, and then two private bathrooms.”
Vasquez says one floor receives “detail work” every night.
“That means really getting in there—scrubbing all the dirt and grime from the toilets. You need to leave it spotless, you need to leave it white,” she says. “You have to dust every [inch] of those bathrooms, make sure everything is shining—no dust underneath the toilets, no dust anywhere. The place where people grab the paper towels has to shine too.”