We pass by them without a murmur of salutation or gratitude. Yet we could not function without them. We would never do their work, yet they are among the lowest paid laborers in our country. Their numbers are growing fast. There are millions of them. They are the cleaners of America.
They clean our airports and bus stations and train stations. They clean our public washrooms, wash out restaurant dishes and pans, take out the garbage, remove hospital waste and empty bed pans, polish our door knobs and wash our windows, floors and carpets. They clean our hotel rooms and schools, courtrooms and offices.
Unless they are unionized — and few are — they are paid a little above the minimum wage, with minimum or no benefits. They can’t live on what they earn, much less support their families. So they are the working poor, barely paying their rent and food bills, going into debt, doubling up with relatives or friends in the wealthiest nation in the world.
About 100 million Americans are essentially broke, deep in debt. That is why in the year 2000, Professor Edward N. Wolff of New York University could estimate that Bill Gates alone had financial wealth equal to the combined financial wealth of the poorest 120 million Americans. Pretty astounding, since there were a total of 283 million Americans that year.
Back to the cleaners. Haven’t you noticed that airline passengers are not the only ones who avert their gaze when they walk past the cleaners? Going out of the airplane on the jetway, it is a rare traveler who thanks the row of cleaners waiting to put the aircraft and its toilets into ready shape for the next flight after the mess they find. We’re just in too much of a rush, right?
It is interesting that we do not do that to taxi drivers or waiters and waitresses. We thank them and give them a gratuity. Their service is an affirmative one — they get us there or they serve us food. Cleaners just get us back to where we started from — a different expectation level.
I propose that there be a national Cleaners Appreciation Day sponsored by their employers preferably around Spring Cleaning time in April. Employers can compliment them in various ways and give awards to the more excellent cleaners. They can recognize the best suggestions by cleaners such as using more bio-degradable cleaning materials and better substitutes for air fresheners (sic) if they have to be used.
For our part, we can start saying thank you to those silent workers who clean up after us. We can provide them with a gratuity at airports or hotels or subway stations. It would mean a lot to them — acts of random kindness that make their often dreary day less daily. It is not something they would begin to demand like the more aggressive cab drivers sometimes do.
Maybe suggestions would lead to a greater public recognition of what they do for us and their need for a living wage and health insurance by their employers.
Let’s hear it from readers. Are you for a national Cleaners Appreciation Day? If so, write us at Cleaners Day, P. O. Box 19367, Washington, DC 20036.