A man who spent part of his childhood working as a janitor told Newt Gingrich on Wednesday that he was offended by the Republican presidential candidate’s plan to put kids to work.
During an event at Georgetown University, Hector Cendejas called out the former House Speaker for his initiative to replace unionized janitors with children workers.
“Back in high school, I was a janitor in my own high school, which was a private school,” Cendejas explained. “For me, it was embarrassing to be a janitor at my own high school because I was with the rich kids. I was poor. My mom was working super hard. I did not feel empowered by serving my classmates. Why not invest on these kids to work for law firms, hospitals and get paid to develop better skills?”
“Did you find it useful financially to earn the money?” Gingrich asked the man.
“I mean, I need to help my mom,” Cendejas replied, adding that his parents were undocumented. “Thank God I had Georgetown to save my butt, you know? … All my friends, they’re pregnant, they’re in gangs, in jail, and we did the same job, working as janitors. So for me, your remark was a little offensive towards me.”
“I’m sorry if you were offended,” Gingrich quipped. “Both of my daughters worked as janitors at the local Baptist Church and they earned the money and they didn’t think it was demeaning, and they actually liked the idea that they earned their own money as kids, and they kept their own money because they thought work had inherent dignity.”
“But they come from a wealthy family,” Cendejas pointed out.
“That’s not the point,” the candidate shrugged. “You and I just disagree.”
Gingrich first proposed replacing unionized janitors with children during a talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School in November.
He later told a crowd in Iowa that poor children were basically lazy.
“Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works so they have no habit of showing up on Monday,” the Georgia Republican insisted. “They have no habit of staying all day, they have no habit of I do this and you give me cash, unless it is illegal.”
Speaking to supporters in South Carolina in December, Gingrich suggested that children as young as five could get “an education in life” by working.
The candidate has actually put his idea in motion by getting business mogul Donald Trump to agree to employee at least 10 poor children as “apprentices.”
“We’re going to be picking ten young, wonderful children, and we’re going to make them apprenti [sic],” Trump said in December. “It was Newt’s idea, and I thought it was a great idea.”
During a debate at Drake University in Iowa, the plan turned out to be popular with Republican voters, who cheered wildly at the mention of child labor.
“If you take one half of the New York janitors, who are paid more than the teachers,” Gingrich told the conservative crowd. “An entry-level janitor gets paid twice as much as an entry-level teacher. You take half those janitors, you could give lots of poor kids a work experience in the cafeteria, in the school library, in the front office, in a lot of different things. I’ll stand by the idea young people ought to learn how to work.”
Watch this video from CNN, uploaded March 28, 2012.