SEIU Minnesota Applauds U.S. Senate Immigration Bill

Press ConferenceSt. Paul, MN – Today members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) of Minnesota celebrated the long-awaited immigration bill introduced at the U.S. Senate early this morning.

“We applaud the bipartisan Senate committee for their tireless work in negotiating and drafting commonsense immigration reform legislation which includes a pathway to citizenship,” said Javier Morillo, President of SEIU Local 26. The majority of Americans believe immigration is good for our country but say the current system is just not working. Our country needs a commonsense process now for new American immigrants to become citizens.”

The bill – which was delayed this week due to the Boston Marathon bombings – was introduced this morning in Washington D.C. Leaders who worked on the bill are expected to hold a press conference tomorrow in D.C. to discuss the bill. Discussion in the Senate Judiciary committee could begin as early as Friday. Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar both sit on that committee.

“This bill is a good starting point, and we look forward to working with Senators Franken and Klobuchar on improving it,” said Jigme Ugen, executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. “We thank Senators Franken and Klobuchar for their support and urge them to be vocal leaders on an issue that impacts all Minnesotans, regardless of immigration status.”

SEIU will work with local business, faith and immigrant communities to address some concerns with the bill, including the length of the citizenship pathway, along with restrictions and a cut-off date that would leave hundreds of thousands out of the process.

“A pathway that lasts 13 years is unreasonable and unjust,” said Carol Nieters, Executive Director of SEIU Local 284. “It should be substantially shortened so all aspiring immigrants have a chance to become a full part of the American dream in a reasonable amount of time. We must expand the number of people eligible for the path to citizenship. The cut-off date and other restrictions including family classifications will tear apart hundreds of thousands of families.”

“Immigration reform must seek to keep families together,” said Morillo. “And that includes LGBT families. The current bill provides no recognition of LGBT families. Our nation was founded upon the very powerful idea that in this land, all people have rights. No matter what you look like, where you come from or who you love – everyone should get a fair shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

SEIU has been a leader in the immigration debate for years and Minnesota’s lavender caucus has been influential in issues surrounding LGBT families, including the effort to pass bills granting the freedom to marry in Minnesota.

These Minnesotans – just as all new American immigrants – contribute to our communities, our society and our economy,” said Ugen. “As an immigrant myself, I came to America to pursue a better life and the opportunity America promises. We must act now to bring the 11 million aspiring citizens out of the shadows.”

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Workers Vote to Ratify New Contracts, Celebrate A Win for Working Families

Minneapolis, MN – After two months without a contract, hundreds of hours of negotiations, and a one-day strike, today SEIU Local 26 janitors and security officers voted to approve new contracts which will help strengthen the middle class in the Twin Cities.

“This is a major victory for working families,” said Margarita Del Angel Lopez, a janitor who works at the IDS Center in Minneapolis. “We work hard to support our families, we fought hard against cuts that would have destroyed thousands of jobs. This shows that when we stand together, we can move forward together. These are the best contracts in the history of the local service sector industry.”

“Suburban security officers have been working for years without a raise,” said Fred Anthony II, a security officer from St Paul. “Some of them haven’t had a raise in up to eight or 10 years. This is the first time they have guaranteed contracts, guaranteed health care, guaranteed job security. It helps bring them out of poverty.”

More than 6,000 janitors and security officers won $1.20 raises over three years, which will pump $48 million into local communities. They also protected stable, full-time positions for thousands of workers. In addition, janitors and security officers secured better employer-based healthcare coverage, which will enable workers to access affordable coverage, rather than be forced to rely on public programs paid for by taxpayers.
This marks the first contract for 1,000 suburban security officers who formed their union with SEIU Local 26 in January 2011 – in addition to getting raises for the first time in years, they gained employer-based healthcare coverage for the first time ever.

“So often, we see the rich get richer, while the rest of us continue falling behind,” said Javier Morillo, President of SEIU Local 26. “Seeing working people win is a very important thing. It’s a beautiful thing. And so congratulations to all of our members who worked hard for this win. Together, we are working toward a better future for all of Minnesota, where people who work for a living are able to make a living. We showed that the labor movement is alive and well in Minnesota.”

SEIU Local 26 janitors reached a tentative agreement last (more…)

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Security Officers Win Tentative Agreement on a Great New Contract

On Heels of 1-Day Strike, Twin Cities Security Officers Reach Tentative Agreement to Strengthen Middle Class

With their first union contract, suburban security officers grow Local 26 by 1,000 members

Minneapolis, MN – Twin Cities security officers are celebrating today after reaching a tentative agreement with all of their employers that strengthens the middle class through stable, full-time jobs. The major victory came late Thursday, when the remaining six subcontractors finally came to a tentative agreement with 2,000 security officers.

“We are exhausted, but elated,” said Elena Krelberg, Local 26 security officer. “We won because we all stood together. Standing shoulder to shoulder with our community, security officers and janitors together won the best contracts in the history of the local service sector industry.”

SEIU Local 26 security officers spent Wednesday on the streets in a one-day strike; employers came back to the bargaining table Thursday morning. After another marathon bargaining session, security officers were able to win a contract with many of the same standards won by 4,000 SEIU Local 26 janitors last weekend. This agreement marks the first contract for 1,000 suburban security officers who formed their union with SEIU Local 26 in January 2011 and have been working to settle a contract ever since, growing the labor movement in Minnesota. The tentative agreement with security officers includes hard-fought gains in:

  • Full-time work: Security officers protected hundreds of full-time jobs that would have been converted to part-time, resulting in lower wages and loss of health care and other benefits. Instead, they secured stable, full-time positions, strengthening job security.
  • Wages: Security officers agreed to wage increases of $1.20 over three years. The wage increase helps bring security officers out of poverty and pumps an additional $18 million a year into the local community.
  • Healthcare: Major gains were made in healthcare coverage for security officers. Suburban security officers will be offered employer-based healthcare coverage for the first time ever. All security officers secured better health care coverage, which will enable workers to access affordable coverage, rather than be forced to rely on public programs paid for by taxpayers.
  • Sick days: Security officers won one additional day of sick time, allowing them to stay at home when ill.
  • Professionalizing the Industry: With the creation of the “Senior Officer” job classification, security officers made gains in their efforts to professionalize an industry that keeps so many people and so much property safe.

The tentative agreement is being hailed as tangible evidence of how union membership and participation can help workers improve their lives. At a time of widespread wage and benefit stagnation, security officers in the Twin Cities have been able to keep more of the profits they provide to some of Minnesota’s wealthiest corporations. In 2002, security officers were paid as little as $7.00 an hour with few, if any, benefits. By negotiating several union contracts—each one better than the last—with their employers over the years, security officers have created a path to work themselves into the middle class.

Security officers will join janitors Saturday when both groups will meet to ratify their tentative agreements.

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Twin Cities Security Officers Call One-Day Strike Today to Protect the Middle Class

Minneapolis, MN — Just after 4:00 a.m., SEIU Local 26 security officers reached a tentative agreement with one of the subcontractors, American Security, after 14 hours of emergency bargaining through the night. American Security is the market leader in the Twin Cities and also based in St. Paul. Due to the tentative agreement, security officers will not be striking against American Security. The remaining six employers would not agree to the tentative deal, however.

Security officers are today launching a one-day strike against the remaining (more…)

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“They make more money by foreclosing on you than by accepting your payments”

A couple of years back Minnesota security officer John Vinje and his wife bought a little home in Bloomington, Minnesota.

“For whatever reason, she fell in love with this itty bitty house in Bloomington,” John says.

Bloomington is a nice town, a place where lots of folks would want to live. It offers urban living, lots of parks, and prosperity—thanks to a thriving retail and hospitality sector. There’s also a memorial to local hero Tom Burnett, a Bloomington native, who was among the 44 people killed on United Airlines Flight 93 during the September 11 terrorist attacks. John, a veteran of the United States Air Force, appreciates that.

They bought the house and moved in. John had his job. His wife had hers. They met their responsibilities, working hard and making house payments to USBank, which is headquartered in Minnesota. They were comfortable and well established.

Or so they thought.

“Due to a change in my wife’s work duties, she lost $2,000 a month in income,” John says.

Soon they were unable to make payments. They tried to work things out with USBank. “We tried to get a loan modification like you’re supposed to. USBank would say, ‘Yes, we’ll work with you.’ But they kept saying they never got our paperwork or that they lost it. We must have sent the stuff in like eight times. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, they were pursuing foreclosure.”

John and his wife lost their home to USBank—the nation’s fifth-largest commercial bank, which raked in $19.1 billion in revenue in 2011.

Why did they lose their home to USBank? “They can make more by foreclosing on you than by accepting your payments,” says John.

John and his wife are trying to get back on their feet. John is one of 6,000 Twin Cites janitors and security officers who are negotiating with their employers for the good jobs that our community needs to strengthen our economy and bolster a rising, thriving middle class.

Knowing that rebuilding the middle class is a task for all of us, John and his fellow security officers are joining together with members of community groups, faith-based groups, environmental groups, student groups, and labor groups under the banner of “Unlock Our Future” to open the doors of prosperity to all Minnesotans.

“If they keep this up, pretty soon there isn’t going to be a middle class,” says John. “We’re going to have ghost towns like during the Depression.”

But John will be taking to the streets with fellow Minnesotans, proposing an alternative version of the future. “Communities will benefit from the creation of good jobs because there wouldn’t be all these vacant, boarded-up homes. People will be able to spend more in the local community and we’ll be able to invest in infrastructure.”

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I can’t just leave my wife out in the cold for healthcare, she gave birth to my sons.

St. Paul security officer Gene Worley works hard. “Right now,” Gene says, “I can’t take a night off because of staffing.”

A 13-year veteran in the security industry, Gene works at a building containing some very high-profile facilities. “There’s the Department of Motor Vehicles, Homeland Security, State Patrol, and the Attorney General’s office,” Gene says. “It’s a heavy-duty site.”

The 50-year old remembers a time in America when if you worked hard for a living, (more…)

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How Wells Fargo is Holding One Minnesota Family Back.

Minnesota security officer James Matias has worked at the same job for seven years.

It’s a good thing because James has a lot of responsibilities. He and his wife have been blessed with six children.“Five of them are still at home,” James says. “They’re great kids. My daughter plays basketball. My son plays football. And my other son is a dancer in a conservatory.”

Study after study shows that when children are involved in extra-curricular activities, they learn how to succeed—not just in sports or the arts, but in life. James will do whatever it takes to give his children a chance to succeed.

He and his wife have tried to save. “It’s been our struggle just to put five bucks away here and there,” James says. “But the ends just don’t meet so we end up using the money we save up.”

So James has been forced to resort to direct deposit advances at Wells Fargo—which has $1.4 trillion in assets.    (more…)

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Twin Cities Janitors Reach Tentative Agreement that Includes Major Gains for Workers on Full-Time Positions, Wages and Healthcare

Minneapolis, MN – In a breakthrough that will improve the lives of more than 4,000 Twin Cities janitors, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 26 and the Minneapolis-St. Paul Contract Cleaners Association reached a tentative agreement for a three-year contract that will provide significant gains for workers around hours, wages, healthcare, workload and job security. The deal came just after 4:00 p.m. Saturday after more than 31 consecutive hours of bargaining. Janitors still need to ratify the contract.

The agreement came after a campaign that galvanized support from a vast array of community organizations, faith and labor leaders, members of the business community, and elected officials – including members of the Minneapolis and St. Paul City Councils, (more…)

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Security Officer Contractors Walk Away From the Table, Workers Vow to Strike Next Week

Minneapolis, MN – This afternoon negotiations with contractors for SEIU Local 26 security officers ended without a contract, despite a Sunday deadline from workers to strike.

“It’s beyond frustrating that these companies aren’t serious about negotiating a new contract,” said Fred Anthony II, a security officer who works at EcoLab in downtown St. Paul. “They walk away, saying they aren’t willing to meet again until mid-March. They can’t be serious if they’re only willing to meet once a month. We can’t keep dragging this out. We made it clear we would stay here as late as we needed, but they’ve just walked away.”

Without a new contract, security officers will go on strike as early as Monday.

Negotiations continue, however, for janitors, who are prepared to stay the whole night to win a new contract. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Contract Cleaners Association has said they’re willing to stay as late as it takes to negotiate a new contract before the Sunday deadline workers set. SEIU Local 26 janitors have said they will also go on strike as early as Monday if they do not win a new contract by Sunday.

“We have to do whatever it takes to win a fair contract,” said Brahim Kone, a janitor at Flint Hills Refinery. “Our lives and our families are at stake. We want to create and expand jobs to grow the middle class. We want to be able to support our families. To do that, we can’t accept the cuts our employers have proposed. We must win a contract that helps move us all forward.”

A new contract would represent the first important victory in a planned “Unlock Our Future” week of action being coordinated by an alliance of labor unions, faith-based organizations and community groups.

Just this week the groups sent a joint letter to the heads of U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, and Target urging the corporations to do their part to resolve the crisis impacting Minnesota’s middle class—immediately. They set a deadline for Sunday, February 24 at noon.

SEIU Local 26 workers going on strike will join members of these organizations Sunday at 1:00 p.m. to start planning for their strike.

“There’s a lot at stake,” said Javier Morillo, president of SEIU Local 26. “For the more than 6,000 workers affected by these contracts, this is about stable, full-time jobs, about being able to provide for their families without public assistance. The corporate elite – U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo and Target – are all enjoying success, and it’s time for the workers to succeed too.”

Separate contracts for janitors and security officers expired simultaneously on December 31 – since then, more than 6,000 workers throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan have been working without a contract. Janitors and security officers work side-by-side, cleaning and protecting property for contractors at some of Minnesota’s richest corporations.



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Twin Cities Janitors and Security Officers Set Sunday as Deadline for Strike

Minneapolis, MN – As more than 6,000 Twin Cities janitors and security officers continue to negotiate with their employers for good, family-sustaining jobs, they are joining with community, environmental, student, and labor organizations in common cause to strengthen Minnesota’s beleaguered middle class.

“We are more than janitors and more than security officers,” said Brahim Kone, an SEIU Local 26 janitor at Flint Hills refinery. “We are taxpayers, renters, homeowners, and bank customers. Above all we are neighbors and concerned Minnesotans.”

“Twin Cities janitors and security officers clean and protect properties owned by some of the world’s largest corporations,” said Javier Morillo, President of SEIU Local 26. “Although these hardworking Minnesotans provide these corporations with millions in profits, they are forced to live in poverty.”

Contracts for janitors and security officers with SEIU Local 26 expired simultaneously on December 31. SEIU Local 26 has been back at the bargaining table since members authorized a strike on February 9, but at this point, employers still have yet to address any of the major concerns, including massive cuts to wages and benefits. Workers seek to retain and improve access to employer-paid health benefits and sufficient working hours so they can support their families. Full-time hours boost overall incomes while providing access to employer-provided health coverage, shifting health insurance costs from taxpayers to building owners.

“We’ve been in negotiations for months,” said Fred Anthony II, an SEIU Local 26 security officer at EcoLab in St. Paul. “The employers have made it clear they want to keep us in poverty. Every day it is becoming clearer that a strike may be necessary. While we continue to hope for the best, we are preparing for the worst.”

If employers do not propose fair contracts that help move workers forward by Sunday, Local 26 members are likely to strike the week of February 5, perhaps as early as Monday. The strike, over Unfair Labor Practices allegedly committed by the janitors and security officers’ employers, will seek to call public attention to the need for a thriving, rising middle class in order to grow our economy and unlock our future.

“Janitors and security officers have realized that we are all in this together,” continued Morillo. “Now we will join tens of thousands of Minnesotans who are also struggling with low wages, crumbling neighborhoods, rundown schools and an array of other disparities that weaken our communities.”

Janitors and security officers are coming together under the banner of “Unlock Our Future” with Minnesota organizations – including ISAIAH Minnesota, TakeAction Minnesota, MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, CTUL (Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en La Lucha, a Minneapolis workers’ center), SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, and SEIU Local 284 – to urge corporations operated by the richest 1% of our society to do their part to resolve the crisis impacting Minnesota’s middle class.

After two years of unfruitful negotiations around many middle-class issues, the group has sent a letter to the heads of Target, USBank and Wells Fargo urging them to take immediate action on housing, state revenue, banking practices, schools, and jobs by Sunday, February 24 at noon. The announcement came from leaders at a press conference held this morning at the State Office Building in St. Paul who all spoke of the need to stop waiting and to prepare to take action.

“For the past two years, these organizations have been talking separately to Minneapolis business leaders about each one of these problems,” Morillo said. “Little or nothing has been done. Now we have all come together under a common banner and a common request: ‘Unlock Our Future.’

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