At first, Minneapolis janitor Rosalina Gomez said she didn't realize she was cleaning up after the CEO of the bank that bought her foreclosed home in a September sheriff's sale.
"At the beginning I didn't know he was the guy," said Gomez through an interpreter in an interview with HuffPost. "I didn't know the relationship between my house and him. I saw him one time but never talked to him."
The guy is Richard Davis, CEO of Minneapolis-based US Bank, the nation's sixth-largest bank and recipient of $6.6 billion in TARP bailout funds. On Feb. 28, Davis was set to receive an "Executive of the Year" award from the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal at a banquet -- 11 days before Gomez and her family had to comply with an eviction order.
The Service Employees International Union, of which Gomez is a member, could not resist the opportunity to draw attention to the soon-to-be-evicted woman cleaning up after one of the bankers taking her home away (US Bank is the trustee; Chase is the mortgage servicer). The SEIU began agitating for Gomez, an effort which dovetailed with a union campaign on behalf of area janitors fighting for a better contract.
"After they found out I was involved in the union activity, they assigned two security guards to follow me when I was cleaning," she said, adding that the guards helped her clean.
Gomez earns $26,000 a year ($12.97 an hour) working for a janitorial services company cleaning up after Davis. He earns more than $2 million a year.
The SEIU planned to have Gomez, 48, deliver a personal letter to Davis as he received his CEO of the Year award last Friday. "I was going to personally give this letter to Richard Davis," she said. But before they could do the stunt, US Bank called for a negotiation between Gomez, union officials and Chase.
The meeting resulted in a deal: The eviction was postponed for 60 days, and Chase will consider making an offer.
"We spoke to the customer on Friday and asked them for information so we could consider a possible modification," wrote a Chase spokesman in an email.
"If the meeting that was facilitated by the two banks and the unions means this lady has an opportunity to stay in her house, that meeting was well worth it," said a US Bank spokesman.
After 26 hours of negotiations last weekend, the janitors, who had threatened to strike, won the improved contract they'd sought from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Contract Cleaners Association. The new contract offers better wages and improved health benefits for janitors. The SEIU's Virginia Rodino said that while Gomez's threat to spoil Richard Davis's party helped her win the eviction postponement, she rode the janitors' momentum to make it happen.
"It's that kind of public shaming that was part of it, but she couldn't have saved her house without the parallel struggle of the janitors."
The union says Gomez's hardship shows the need for better wages and health benefits for janitors in Minneapolis. Gomez said that after her health insurance refused to cover treatment for a stomach tumor in 2005 (she said her insurer claimed the tumor was a preexisting condition), she found herself on the hook for more than $26,000. In 2006, Gomez said she and her husband went to Chase for a refinancing. Gomez said she thought they'd gotten a fixed-rate mortgage and they were shocked to learn in October 2008 that the rate would adjust. The monthly payment would jump by $100, and then it would jump again in six months. Gomez said that she and her husband stopped making mortgage payments last year. They filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May.
Gomez said she was glad she'd won the postponement, but she and her husband have already rented an apartment. She said they hope to move back. In the meantime, she said the transition has been tough on her family.
"We have a boy and he used to have his own room," she said. "It broke our hearts to tell him we're moving to a one-bedroom apartment because that's all we can afford. The bedroom is for us and you have to sleep in the living room."