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San Diego Janitors Fast For Family Health Care

Janitors who clean some of San Diego's most profitable biotech companies will end their three day hunger strike at noon today. They want better wages and health insurance in one of the highest paid industries in San Diego county.

Evening Edition

Aired 5/18/12 on KPBS News.

A report from the Center on Policy Initiatives reveals janitors at San Diego's largest life sciences firm are paid an average of $8.84 an hour, with no health care benefits.

San Diego is home to one of the most concentrated biotech clusters in the world, where you can literally walk across the street to collaborate with another life science company. The average salary for a biotech worker in California starts at about $80,000 a year. But that doesn't include many essential support jobs that are contracted out, such as janitors, security guards and food service workers. They earn between $8.80 and $9.50 an hour without health care benefits.

"I have two jobs," said Martha Gomez, a single mom with four kids living in San Diego with permanent residency status. She's been cleaning the offices of one of the county's largest biotech firms for several years now earning $8.40 an hour. "The money I earn is to pay the rent and bills and that's it," Gomez said.

A report from the Center on Policy initiatives shows one of the companies Gomez works for, Illumina, pays its contracted janitors about $18,387 a year for full-time work.

Although many companies outsource, Arena Pharmaceuticals has janitors on staff. The company provides full medical benefits, a 401K plan, four weeks vacation, disability and more than $10 an hour.

Sandra Diaz is with the Service Employees International Union. "These industries need to show leadership in San Diego as they have in other parts of the state," she said.

The janitors' contract expires at the end of May and the main sticking point is affordable health care benefits. Diaz said San Diego contractors are the only holdouts in the state.

"If you've settled in Orange County, if you've settled in Los Angeles, if you've settled in Northern California, you can settle in San Diego on similar terms," she said.

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