As Strike Deadline Looms, New Report Highlights Unsafe Workloads and Rising Productivity Demands Facing Twin Cities Janitors

The report, titled ‘Back Breaking Profits,’ highlights how decades of sub-contracting has caused the current situation that contributed to janitors voting to authorize strike

Minneapolis, Minn— Just weeks after Twin Cities janitors voted unanimously to authorize their bargaining committee to call a strike, and the committee set a Feb. 14th deadline for the 4,000 janitors across the Metro to get a fair contract from their employers, a new report titled Back Breaking Profits is shining a light on one of the major issues highlighted by janitors who voted to authorize a strike. The new report lays clear how in the Twin Cities, as in the rest of the United States, the janitorial industry has undergone massive subcontracting in the last three decades, and the harm that has meant for workers, families and our communities.

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From the report:

In the last decade, janitorial services contractors have reduced the number of janitors, forcing the remaining workforce to cover more territory, leading to injuries and high stress for workers. The work is labor intensive, and fast-paced, demanding heavy lifting, repetitive motions, bending and crouching in unnatural positions. Building cleaning and maintenance occupations had the highest rate of days-away-from-work due to on-the-job injury or illness in Minnesota during 2014, nearly three times the average of all private sector occupations.

The cleaning industry is in crisis and janitors are facing the worst of it. Service Employees International Union Local 26 janitorial members have experienced drastic increases in workload; many say the changes began more than 30 years ago, when building owners started contracting out cleaning services rather than employing those workers directly.

The report includes personal testimonies from Twin Cities janitors who are members of the SEIU Local 26 and would be part of a strike if the contract hasn’t been reached by the Feb 14th deadline. Jessica Hansen has been a janitor since 1977, when a majority of workers like her were white, and has seen the changes as her job has gone from being considered a “good job,” with fair pay, free healthcare, pensions and more, to the current challenges facing workers. Currently over 90% of janitors in the Twin Cities with SEIU Local 26 are people of color. On average, janitors clean the equivalent per square feet of more than 20 houses every night, while some clean much more than that.

In the report, janitors like Elia, who cleans the Ameriprise tower in Minneapolis, share the real world implications of the rising workloads facing janitors and their families. Her testimony includes sharing that “four people got injured at the building I clean between April to December, and I was one of them. Because of my injury, I had to be on light duty for weeks, but the worst part is I’m in so much pain, I can’t play with my children,” she stated. There are countless stories like Elia’s, including many shared in the report, that highlight why increasing workload is such a major issue for janitors, and all working people, across Minnesota.

The report highlights steps being proposed by the janitor’s in negotiations to address this crisis, including:

  • Worker-centered enforcement of safety rules.  Walkthroughs and information for janitors to resolve issues at worksite where they know best. Janitors are experts in their field, they know what works, what doesn’t, what can be accomplished safely and when they’re being pushed to their limits. Workload walkthroughs with janitor, union steward and supervisor are a necessary tool to resolve issues at worksite.
  • Sustainable staffing levels. Establishing reasonable staffing levels, such as 40,000 square feet per night and 225 bathroom units, would ensure manageable workloads and prevent on-the-job injuries.
  • Data driven analysis of how to improve. Fielding an academic study from the University of Minnesota to evaluate ergonomic best practices and asses the effects of workload on janitors

Read the whole report HERE. Workers from the report and the report’s main author are available for comment.

Background: On January 23rd, janitors with SEIU Local 26 voted to authorize their bargaining committee to call a unfair labor practice strike as their employers continue to stall and intimidate workers in bargaining over a new contract for the 4,000 janitors in the Twin Cities. Workers have been fighting for a $15 floor for all workers, a fix to a growing workload crisis and policies that support healthy families. In response they have only seen stalling from employers. The bargaining committee announced a Feb. 14th deadline to reach a fair contract that allows for healthy families and strengthens our community by fighting to address income and racial disparities plaguing our state. If a contract agreement is not reached by Feb. 14th, the committee could call a strike at any point going forward. Janitors have been negotiating since October with their employers. Their current three-year contract expired on Dec. 31st.

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SEIU Local 26 is Minnesota’s Property Services Union, uniting more than 6,000 janitors, security officers, and window cleaners in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. SEIU unites more than 225,000 property services workers nationally, and over 2 million including workers in healthcare and the public sector.

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