Report: Janitors’ low wages a blotch on biotech’s shining reputation
By Center on Policy Initiatives / May 15, 2012
Janitors who clean the offices and laboratories of San Diego’s highly profitable biotech companies generally aren’t paid enough to live on, while their low wages are excluded from the industry’s claims of creating good jobs.
A new report from the Center on Policy Initiatives examined the pay scales and financial health of large local life sciences firms, including biotech and related companies. While the industry claims its salaries average more than $100,000 locally, that doesn’t count many essential support jobs that often are contracted out – such as janitors, security guards and food service workers.
Janitors at San Diego’s largest life sciences firm, Illumina, are paid an average of $8.84 an hour – $18,387 for a year of full-time work – while the company nets $125 million a year and CEO Jay T. Flately makes $9.9 million.
“These service workers are the invisible part of an industry that receives substantial public subsidy and is considered the best hope for our local economy,” said Corinne Wilson, lead author of the report. “The corporations are thriving and should be responsible employers for all the workers who make that success possible.”
The report, Swept under the Rug: Low Pay in San Diego’s Life Sciences Industry, also found that janitors’ wages in San Diego have consistently lagged behind the statewide average over the past decade, despite the region’s high cost of living.
One janitor profiled in the report, Martha Gómez, is paid $8.40 an hour after four years cleaning Illumina’s offices. She must work two jobs, leaving virtually no time with her 9- and 14-year-old daughters. Another janitor, Arturo Morales, makes $9.78 an hour after seven years at Gen-Probe, and has no health coverage for his wife Maria, who is deteriorating from the potentially fatal disease scleroderma.
Six San Diego janitors are starting a hunger strike today as part of a week-long demonstration of their need for higher wages and health coverage. They are hoping to gain an improved contract through the Service Employees International Union – United Service Workers West.
CPI recommends a Responsible Industry Code of Conduct for life sciences companies that would require service contactors to provide decent jobs with healthcare for local workers.