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Southeast Financial Center Janitors Protest for Unpaid Wages

Most days, Juana Reyes stays past 10 pm to pick up the half-eaten lunches and crumpled printouts left behind by bankers and traders at the Southeast Financial Center, which houses heavy hitters like Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. But for the last four years, the 60-year-old Nicaragua native says she and her coworkers have been stiffed on overtime.

The janitors staged a protest at the building this afternoon to demand back pay. "We are being cheated," Reyes tells Riptide.

Reyes says she's personally owed more than $2,000 in unpaid wages.

"I only make $12,000 a year so that is more than it might seem to many people," she says.

The janitors' protest was staged with the help of the Services Employees International Union (SEIU), the labor giant that is trying to organize the building's staffers. The group's Florida director, Eric Brakken calls the allegedly unpaid work "exploitation" and "wage theft."

City of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado appeared at the protest to speak in support of the workers.

"This group of people is the landscape of Miami," he tells Riptide. "They are Cuban-Americans, African-Americas, Haitians, some Central Americans. They are what Miami is. I think it is only fair that if they work and did the time that they get paid."

Jantrex Building Services didn't answer Riptide's calls seeking comment on the protest.The owners of the Southeast Financial Center declined to comment.

Reyes has been picking up garbage and dusting at the building for 16 years, but says she only started having problems four years ago when Jantrex became her new boss. Now she's unable to pay bills from recent colon and gall bladder surgery and to support her four children in Nicaragua and in Miami.

"The money is ours," Reyes said. "Not theirs. We earned it."

SEIU plans to help the workers file a legal claim later this week, Brakken says.

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