The hype of Comedian, the banana duct taped to the wall at Art Basel Miami Beach by conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan, has taken the art world by storm. Everyone is still talking about the prices paid, the artist that ate the art, and the purpose behind the banana. One group in Miami, though, took to the streets to protest low wages and they found Comedian as an unexpected emblem for their cause.
On the afternoon of December 11th, Miami-based janitors marched in the street in what they called the ‘plátanito protest.’ Wearing purple union shirts with a banana taped to their chests, around 50 unionised janitors were present for the protest. The demonstration was to highlight the low wages area janitors receive and poor working conditions, which cite abuse and intimidation. According to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who represent those who protested, janitors in the Miami area make, on average, $8.50 per hour. (An article by the Miami Herald states that the median wage is $10.89, though this average includes full-time employees and those covered by living-wage statutes). Thus, most janitors live at or below the US federal poverty line and are unable to afford rent or food, let alone presents for the holidays, on their income. When compared to other cities with a similar cost of living, like Chicago and Seattle, Miami-based janitors are paid more than $3.50 less than their counterparts in those cities. Also, when considering the expense of living in Miami, the city ranks last among other areas for wages for the people whose work is critical to businesses but often goes without much recognition.
So, how did the banana factor in, you might ask. Well, it became a symbol for the protesters to highlight the vast amounts of money changing hands in one part of the city while many others struggle to get by on their own income. ‘How much are we worth?’ asked Miami janitor Felipa Cardenas, who, according to the Miami New Times, earns $8.46 per hour cleaning a downtown Miami office building. ‘A banana is worth more than us, apparently. Our work is something people don’t value; they look at us like we’re nothing. But it’s a job with dignity, and it’s tough work. We deserve better payment.’
‘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,’ said Ana Tinsly, spokesperson for the Florida division of 32BJ SEIU. ‘Miami should not be a playground for the rich; it should be a place where all residents can earn a decent living and raise their families.’
Edited: June 12, 2020 for spelling error.