Silicon Valley's janitor problem

The janitors for many of tech’s biggest companies decided to walk out on strike today.

I’m not a big union supporter. I generally don’t like the things because, for the most part, I live in a meritocracy. If I don’t get interesting videos, no one will show up and eventually sponsors figure that out and decide to spend their money somewhere else.

In the tech world if you build something interesting you’ll get the money and the job and all that. Yeah, I know there are exceptions and we should talk about those again sometime but that meritocracy works because it’s easy to get noticed in the geek world.

Right now at Google there’s a bunch of geeks coding cool stuff for mobile phones as part of WhereCamp. Are you a geek who knows how to code something cool for mobile phones? Well, you just need to show up. There’s no walls keeping you out. No entry fees. No one saying “your type can’t come in here.”

But, I’m not naive enough to think that the entire world works that way.

Have you ever thought about the people who clean your buildings? They are easy to miss. They usually come in after 10 p.m. — long after you should have left. At Microsoft I got to know a few of them because I was one of the few employees who’d stick around after hours.

I also lived with a guy who was a janitor at a San Jose school for a while, so I got to know a little bit about the profession that most people don’t like to talk about (or even see, which is why most of these people work at night).

But I do notice and it’s criminal that the people who clean the billionaires’ offices only make $23,000 or so, especially when janitors in other areas make more (and the housing costs of those people in those areas are less too, which doubles the insult). Yes, I know that to most people in the world $23,000 sounds like a lot of money (more than half of the world lives on $2 or so a day in income). But in Silicon Valley? That’s way below the poverty line (remember, an average house here costs more than $700,000).

So, it’s time to fix this little problem before Monday and pay them more and get them back to work. Oh, and to the people who work at these companies: why don’t you stick around until 8 p.m. or so, then drop off your trash in front of the CEO’s office? I guarantee if you do that this problem will get solved by Tuesday morning.