Janitor’s median wage in Miami — $8.50 an hour — ranks the lowest among other major US cities. (photo courtesy of Ana Tinsley)

It’s the fruit seen throughout the art world, and a number of janitors in Miami hope it will also help draw attention to their cause. On Wednesday, December 11, janitors donned purple shirts adorned with a taped banana, a reference to Maurizio Cattelan’s “Comedian” that sold for $120,000 at Art Basel Miami Beach. The group of janitorial workers was protesting the low wages and poor working conditions common in their line of work.  

The Miami New Times reported that the so-called “platanito protest” drew a crowd of about 50 attendees including Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jean Monestime. Recent findings from the University of California-Los Angeles’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge revealed that janitor’s median wage in Miami — $8.50 an hour — ranked the lowest among other major US cities. The estimated livable wage for a single adult without children in Miami-Dade County is $12.85.

At the demonstration, the custodians shared stories of working two jobs and still not being able to afford Christmas gifts for relatives or getting fired for what they suspect was involvement with union organizing. The group protested at buildings cleaned by SFM Services, Pritchard Industries, and CRS Facility Services, all of which were accused of paying below livable wages and not offering any benefits. 

The protestors decided to use the taped banana as a symbol of the excess that does not trickle down to the residents who reside there and keep the city running. Ana Tinsly, a spokeswoman for the Florida chapter of 32BJ SEIU union, which serves property service workers, told the Miami New Times, “The plátanito protest is to illustrate the absurdity of someone spending tens of thousands on a banana taped to a wall in a city where janitors earn so little they can’t afford to feed their families.”

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Monica Castillo

Monica Castillo is a writer and critic based in New York City. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Village Voice, RogerEbert.com, Remezcla, the Guardian,...