Janitors prepare for Wednesday strike

Janitors at a recent press conference in front of U.S. Bank Plaza. Credit: Submitted photo

Janitors with SEIU Local 26 plan to strike Wednesday evening after months of negotiations with employers seeking higher wages and improved working conditions.

A community rally will be held 7:30–10:30 a.m. Wednesday at U.S. Bank Plaza. Janitors plan to strike for 24 hours. 

SEIU Local 26 represents 4,000 janitors in the Twin Cities. The workers have been pushing for a $15 minimum wage and changes to increased workloads that have caused injuries and illnesses, according to the union.

The union has been negotiating with subcontractors that provide cleaning services to office buildings in the Twin Cities.

Attorney John Nesse, chief negotiator for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Contract Cleaners Association, said the janitors have a wage and benefits package that is above the Twin Cities average. He represents nine subcontractors. 

“In addition to a highly competitive wage rate, employees receive paid vacation, paid holidays, paid sick time, disability pay benefits, and a silver-level health insurance plan — all according to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement the SEIU previously negotiated with the employers,” Nesse said. “The employers offered a wage proposal in January that would bring all full-time employees above $15 per hour within two years.  The union’s wage proposal — which calls for wage increases of 20-45 percent for all employees — has not changed in more than three months of negotiations.”

He said the employers respect the union’s right to strike and look forward to another bargaining sesson on Feb. 22.  

At a recent press conference outside U.S. Bank Plaza, Brahim Kone, a St. Paul janitor and union member who has been a leader on the bargaining team, said the problems facing janitors contribute to the region’s troubling disparities.

“We are fighting to win a fair contract for families in Local 26, over 90 percent of whom are people of color, but also to change the conversation in our state and begin to roll back the harmful racial and economic disparities that have grown over the last three decades,” Kone said.

Samuel Castendana, a janitor for ABM, also spoke about the challenging workloads facing people cleaning the city’s office buildings.

“Many janitors like myself clean the equivalent of over 20 homes a night,” he said. “Imagine cleaning 20 houses everyday. I recently had an operation on my shoulder, and many of my co-workers are getting sick or injured as well.”

Janitors have had 11 negotiating sessions with their employers since October. Their current three-year contract expired on Dec. 31. 

CTUL, a South Minneapolis-based low-wage worker advocacy group, announced Tuesday that non-union janitors subcontracted to clean Macy’s and Herberger’s stores have a reached a settlement for $425,000 in back wages and damages as part of a class action lawsuit against Capital Building Services Group.

Non-union janitors with CTUL are also preparing to go on strike Thursday if their employers fail to respond to demands for higher pay and an end to wage theft.