A cleaning company with a lofty goal: transforming a low-wage industry
At her former cleaning job, Kimberly Reyes was paid a set amount, in cash, even if the house was a disaster. Sometimes there wasn’t enough work, so she got a second job working nights and weekends at a restaurant. Because she was a contractor, she had to save up to pay taxes on her income but didn’t always set aside enough.
But in December, Reyes, who lives in Maryland, started working for Well-Paid Maids in Washington D.C., which is launching operations in Boston Monday. Now she is a full-time employee making $17 an hour, with three weeks of paid vacation time and access to health insurance. For Reyes, who is studying to become a medical administrative assistant, the job is a revelation.
“I’ve never had a job that has benefits,” said Reyes, 26, the mother of a 15-month-old girl. Now that her hours are steady and her wages are higher, “I don’t have to stress about bills as much.”
Cleaning houses is not usually considered a desirable job. Most cleaners are contractors, with few job protections and no benefits. Well-Paid Maids is looking to change that with a business that founder Aaron Seyedian describes as “a living-wage home-cleaning” service.
His ultimate goal goes beyond just being a good employer, though. Seyedian envisions his company as a case study for the living-wage movement, one that demonstrates that traditionally low-paying industries can treat workers well and still be profitable. Once lawmakers see his real-life example, he hopes his modest cleaning operation can spark greater worker protections across the economy.
“Don’t believe the chamber, don’t believe the business round table,” said Seyedian, 30, imagining the pushback from companies. “There’s another way and it’s viable and here’s the proof.”
Seyedian’s business plan involves opening in liberal, wealthy cities where he anticipates residents will be willing to pay a little more to support a company that takes care of its employees. In Boston, prices will range from $149 for a studio to $249 for a four-bedroom, two-bath house.
That is considerably more than the $96 the on-demand service Handycharges for cleaning a studio apartment in the Boston area. And it’s slightly above the $120 that Boston-based MaidPro charges for a once-a-month studio cleaning.
So far, Seyedian has just 11 employees in three markets — Washington, Baltimore, and Boston — and has mapped out expansion possibilities in cities with high median incomes and large numbers of left-leaning representatives in municipal government. Other prime targets: New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
Seyedian, who has a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and worked as a consultant before launching Well-Paid Maids in Washington, D.C., in 2017, has long been interested in workers’ rights. And after taking a buyout from a consulting firm, he decided to start a cleaning company, based largely on the fact that it has low startup costs and is in an industry marked by “horrible practices.” In other words, it’s an industry where he could make a difference.
So far, it’s working. The private company is on track to break $500,000 in revenue this year, with a profit margin of 15 to 20 percent.
Seyedian based starting wages on MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, which shows what people need to make based on the cost of living in their community. He gives his employees, who all work full time, health, dental, and vision insurance and 22 paid days off a year, and he pays their commuting costs. Several of his employees are immigrants, who are required to speak at least basic English and have documentation, and half of the cleaners are men.
Seyedian even puts his workers’ photos and bios on the website. “I thought I would copy corporate America,” he said.
Cleaning someone’s house is an intimate business, he added, and giving customers information about who is in their homes can ease concerns, as well as break down barriers between the person getting the service and the person providing it.
Janine Loud, one of two people recently hired for the Boston branch of Well-Paid Maids, had her own cleaning business for six years and briefly worked for a service where she was once paid $50 for a job that took seven hours. During her job search, Loud, 35, was drawn to Well-Paid Maids, impressed by how well Seyedian took care of his workers and by the positive reviews online. He pays by the hour, regardless of how long a job takes, including overtime pay.
Loud was thrilled when her bio went up on the website: In her spare time, she loves to go on new adventures with her friends and her dog.
“That’s never happened to me before,” said Loud, who grew up in Winthrop and still lives there. “I feel like a celebrity.”
As the labor market tightens and income inequality becomes a bigger topic of conversation, employers, especially younger ones, are increasingly focused on taking care of their workers, said Zeynep Ton, an adjunct management professor at MIT and cofounder of the Good Jobs Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to helping companies create good jobs.
But people won’t pay more simply because Well-Paid Maids pays their employees more, she said. What they will pay more for is good service, and workers who are well taken care of perform better, she said.
Based on Yelp reviews where the company is established, customers of Well-Paid Maids are happy with both the service and the emphasis on social justice. The company has more than 40 reviews and a five-star rating,
“We feel great being able to support a local business that seems socially responsible and ethical (i.e. not underpaying their staff!), and we’re willing to cough up the [approximately] $150 it costs for a 1BR, ~3-hour cleaning,” one person wrote. “These people got our kitchen and our bathroom to SHINE. Seriously, I didn’t even know my kitchen sink was that color.”
Melissa Ryan recently moved to Cambridge from Washington, where she had used Well-Paid Maids, and was thrilled to find out the business was expanding to the Boston area. Ryan, a political consultant, said paying $179 to get her and her husband’s two-bedroom apartment cleaned once a month is well worth it.
“I try not to contribute to someone’s economic exploitation whenever I can,” she said.