TAMPA, Fla. -- During these past four days at the RNC convention, janitors have worked around the clock picking up after delegates, conservative stars like Ann Coulter and Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), and the thousands of reporters in cavernous filing rooms. And many are doing so making less than minimum wage.
Carolyn Walker said she has been cleaning the convention center for 13 years. She had been making $8 per hour until a few years ago, when the cleaning contract went to another company, Cleanevent USA. The new company meant a new, downsized paycheck. She's now making minimum wage -- $7.67 per hour. But that wasn't the only hit to her wallet.
Walker said the company charges her $6 per week for uniforms. "It stinks to tell you the truth," she said. "We work very hard." It effectively means she's making less than Florida's minimum wage.
Larry Gilmore, 32, and Jean Baptiste, 27, recounted similar hits to their paychecks by Cleanevent. Baptiste said he's charged $11 per week for uniforms -- a thin blue short-sleeve shirt and dark pants.
As Rep. Paul Ryan delivered his acceptance speech on Wednesday night, Baptiste wheeled his giant can through the convention center, picking up trash left by reporters from The New York Times, CBS, The Huffington Post and other media outlets. All you heard in the massive room was Ryan's speech and the wheels on Baptiste's plastic trash can. He said he had only one complaint about the work. "It's good," he explained. "I just wish they paid more. I can't keep up with the rent."
Baptiste's rent in Tampa is $575. His electric bill can be as high as $160 per month. If he wants to park near the convention center for work, he -- and the others -- said they would be charged for the privilege. Baptiste said he does not use that parking garage.
Asked about the details of his paycheck, one worker, who refused to give a name, replied "So much money for the haves and so little money for the have-nots. I want you to note that distinction."
Mike Sheehan, Cleanevent's regional manager, said the convention has been a boon, providing enough work to effectively expand his company. He's utilized 105 people to clean up after the RNC -- including about 40 new workers hired for the convention.
Sheehan usually goes through a temp service to hire extra staff for big events. He said he may not do so anymore, adding that he plans on keeping a lot of the new janitors. The new workers, he said, aren't getting charged for uniforms, since they aren't regular employees. Only the longtime, steady employees like Walker are getting charged. "It's like five or six dollars" a week, he said.
Is the uniform charge fair? "No," Sheehan admitted. "It's better to just issue them and allow them to purchase extra shirts at cost. That's where I'm heading now."
Zandra Jones, 29, is one of the new janitors. She hasn't been hit with any uniform charge. Maybe, if Sheehan keeps his promise, she won't have to.
After two years of fruitlessly looking for work, filling out application after application, Jones landed a job with the company two weeks ago. She's already figured out what she likes best about the job. "Working. Just working period," she said. "Just having work."
The state Department of Labor couldn't be reached for comment after business hours on Thursday.
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