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When you get caught between a broom and N.Y. City

January 20, 2012 - Jim Anderson
Earlier this week, in a Republican presidential candidate debate, Newt Gingrich claimed that New York City “pays their (school) janitors an absurd amount of money because of the union.”

Gingrich then promoted — as he did at some events last fall — the idea of hiring school children to replace overpaid janitors.

“You could take one janitor and hire 30-some kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor, and those 30 kids would be a lot less likely to drop out,” Gingrich said.

Could be, yes.

At first glance, I might guess at a few complications, such as access to hazardous chemicals, access to offices and utilities, use of ladders, accountability for damaged equipment, that kind of thing.

But let’s give Gingrich the benefit of the doubt, and focus only on his contention that New York school janitors earn “absurd” money.

According to the New York City Department of Education, workers holding the title of “cleaners” are paid $37,710 annually after two years on the job.

New York is considered the most expensive city in the nation. A luxury, two-bedroom apartment, unfurnished, goes for $4,300 a month, according to Business Insider. That would be $51,600 a year.

Or, according to, a basic 1-bedroom unfurnished apartment in Brooklyn or Queens goes for $1,400 to $3,000 a month. At $1,400 a month, that’s $16,800 a year.

In short, if you’re thinking of moving to New York to make “absurd” money as a janitor, you’ll probably need a roommate — preferably one with a better job than yours.

In fairness to Gingrich, there are “custodial engineers” in New York schools who earn higher wages, anywhere from $50,000 to more than $100,000. Custodial engineers, however, are supervisors who are expected to be certified for minor repair duties, including heating, electrical and plumbing.

Gingrich, and others, might contend that some of those workers are overpaid.

I would doubt, however, that Gingrich or anyone else would suggest it’s feasible to replace them with students.

Gingrich, you might remember, is reported to have earned $1.6 million for consulting the mortgage giant Freddie Mac at various times from 1999 to 2008. At one point, he reportedly had a contract that paid him $300,000 annually.

An absurd amount of money, perhaps, but at least we can be thankful it wasn’t because of the union.



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