Janitors strike blocks downtown Minneapolis streets

Kathleen Lantto |

Over the bridge

David Kasyanyuk / Flickr

From the Pioneer Press:

A Twin Cities union representing 4,000 janitors is planning a one-day strike Wednesday to draw attention to ongoing contract negotiations. The janitors clean most office buildings in downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis and the suburbs.

A Sunday deadline for a new contract passed, prompting the Service Employees International Union Local 26 to announce that members will walk off the job on Wednesday. A rally is planned at 7:30 that evening at U.S. Bank Plaza in Minneapolis. A demonstration also is being planned at around 5 p.m. near Fifth and Robert streets in downtown St. Paul, said Brahim Kone, a St. Paul janitor and bargaining team leader. The St. Paul group will then ride buses or carpool to join the later Minneapolis rally, he said.

Kone couldn’t say how many buildings would be affected by the walkout but said the downtown office districts would be targeted. A list provided by Local 26 of buildings served by the union janitors includes “pretty much every big building you know/see in the metro.”

On the list are headquarters or corporate operations buildings for Ecolab, Travelers, Target, Medtronic, General Mills, UnitedHealth, Cargill and other major business, downtown state and county offices for Hennepin and Ramsey counties and St. Paul Public Schools sites.

The St. Paul Federation of Teachers, meanwhile, is coordinating walk-ins at several schools before classes begin Wednesday morning. Teachers and their supporters plan to call attention to the school climate and safety proposals they’ve presented during negotiations with the school district over the next two-year teacher contract. The teachers want more support staff in their schools and money for pilot projects. Negotiators for the union and school district have mediation sessions scheduled for Feb. 18 and 25.

Kone, the SEIU bargainer, also said nonunion janitors who clean retail stores are being asked to participate in the stoppage and are being offered carpool transportation to demonstrations.

He acknowledged that the workers are striking against the janitorial companies that employ them, not the businesses or other janitorial clients who occupy the buildings being picketed — although it’s those clients who won’t get their offices cleaned for one day.

The union workers are asking for a minimum wage of $15 an hour. They are also seeking a limit on the amount of work they must complete during a normal shift, which a union statement described as the equivalent of cleaning 20 houses.

But John Nesse, a negotiator for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Contract Cleaners Association, said employers have already offered to raise wages about $15 an hour during the life of the contract, which would normally run three years.

In addition to the janitors, the union represents 2,000 security officers, window cleaners and other workers. The security officers on Thursday reached a separate contract settlement. The ratification vote for that agreement is scheduled to be held on Saturday.

Negotiations for the janitors’ contract began in October, to replace a three-year contract that expired Dec. 31. Union members voted in January to authorize a strike, with a deadline of Sunday. Kone said the next negotiating session is Feb. 22. He said the bargaining committee will decide if additional or longer walkouts will be staged.

About 90 percent of the janitors are people of color, the union notes.

Read the full article from the Pioneer Press.