SEIU Local 26 members representing more than 6,000 workers through Twin Cities metro call for corporate elite to unlock their future
Minneapolis, MN – More than 500 janitors and security officers who clean and protect property for the richest corporations in Minnesota today voted to walk off the job over proposed cuts to full-time positions, living wages and health care and in protest of the employers’ unfair labor practices. Today’s vote authorizing both the janitors’ and security officers’ bargaining committees to call for a strike if necessary means that workers representing more than 6,000 janitors throughout Minneapolis, St. Paul and the suburbs could call for a strike at any time.
“If my job was cut to part-time, it would be like suicide,” said Brahim Kone, a janitor at Flint Hills refinery. “I make just enough money now to pay the bills for my wife and my two children. I fear if my wages were cut, I would lose my home. We can not accept cuts that move us backward and push us into poverty – we must move forward.”
“We need access to health care that covers our families,” said Gene Worley, a security officer at Town Square in downtown St. Paul. “I’m not asking for free health care, just something I can afford which covers my family would help. Real family coverage – employee, spouse, children. “
For the first time ever in the Twin Cities, contracts for janitors and security officers with SEIU Local 26 expired simultaneously on December 31. Despite months of bargaining, employers continue giving workers the runaround, bargaining in bad faith by refusing to show up to negotiations and offering proposals full of cuts. Security contractors have proposed moving hundreds of positions to part-time, eliminating all benefits and access to health care. Janitorial contractors are proposing cuts to more than 50 percent of janitors, with cuts as high as 40 percent for many members. For many workers, health coverage for their family would cost around $700 a month.
“Without access to affordable family health insurance, I have to ask the state to get my family on a public health plan,” said Alfredo Estrada, a janitor at the Minnesota Center. “I don’t want to have to ask the state to support my family; I would like to care for my family myself. “
“As a janitor, I work around a lot of strong chemicals, so health insurance is really important,” said Kone. “But I need better healthcare for my family. Right now, I can’t afford to pay for family insurance through my employer. I would give them my whole check for that!”
The average full-time janitor qualifies for public assistance, including health care programs, due to wages just above the poverty line and a lack of access to affordable health care.
“When the rich, corporate elite shirk their responsibility that they have had to provide health care, the burden falls on the public,” said Javier Morillo, President of SEIU Local 26. “This is just another example of the richest corporations refusing to pay their fair share and asking the taxpayers to subsidize the costs of doing business. These workers clean and protect the wealthiest corporations like Target, Wells Fargo and US Bank, yet they’re too poor to even shop at Target or have money for a savings account with Wells Fargo or US Bank.”
U.S. Representative Keith Ellison joined members and an array of labor, community and religious leaders to call for employers to help workers move forward through living wages.
All of us together can be powerful if we insist on dignity,” said Congressman Ellison, “if we stand together, and if we fight for working families here in solidarity with workers everywhere.”
CTUL, a workers center that supports non-union workers in retail stores also showed their support for Local 26 members.
“You clean and protect the office towers, the headquarters for the corporate elite,” said Veronica Mendez. “Our members are cleaning the retail stores for those same companies. Target will continue to use us against one another unless we are willing to stand together. Today we say to you – as you prepare to strike, we are prepared to stand with you. Together, we will unlock a better future.”
“We have bargained in good faith, and have sent forth a fair, beneficial proposal,” said Worley. “But have received unrealistic counter offers when any have been offered to begin with. This cannot be allowed to continue. Now is the time to draw our line in the sand and call out all our brethren to do what we must to win a fair working contract. Now is the time to make our stand. Our ways of life are at stake, and the future of our families hang in the balance.”
“The rich want to take this country back to the days of the robber barons,” he says. “For the middle class that means economic collapse, bad schools, broken-down housing, and debt–student debt, medical debt, mortgage debt. The middle class is being systematically destroyed.”
For Paul, who works for American Security at the Retek building downtown, the attack on the middle class hits home.
To make ends meet, Paul says he and his wife are forced to rely on Wells Fargo payday loans–for which they pay triple-digit interest rates.
“My wife and I can’t even afford to start a family,” he says. “We’re just not in a good economic position. It bothers me to see her with kids, knowing we can’t have a family. She would make a great mom.”
Paul is one of 6,000 SEIU Local 26 janitors and security officers currently negotiating with their employers for better jobs. Although the workers provide profits for some of the largest and wealthiest companies in the world, their proposals have been met with employer demands to cut pay and working hours.
Now Paul and his co-workers will be voting whether to go on strike. A walkout would come at a time when ordinary Minnesotans are increasingly pushing for change–in the voting booth, in the state capitol, and in the streets.
“We’re going to join together with other folks and fight for our future,” Paul says. “Either we’ll be serfs or we’re going to be members of a strong and thriving middle class.”
And some–like Paul’s wife–may be moms.
“I went from making $80,000 to making $18,000,” Robert says. “That’s $4,000 below the poverty line. It’s sad.”
Robert, a father of two, remembers a different way of life.
“When you’re middle class you have a pension and decent health insurance,” he says. “And we used to go skiing, hunting, fishing. Now I can’t even save for the kids’ school. It’s just paycheck to paycheck.”
Robert works for ABM protecting Meridian Crossings, a high-rise building in Richfield. The building includes a branch of US Bank–the nation’s fifth-largest commercial bank, which raked in $19.1 billion in revenue in 2011.
“I work the night shift, 11 at night to seven in the morning,” Robert says. “I take it seriously, very seriously.”
A member of SEIU Local 26, Robert is one of 1000 suburban Minneapolis security officers seeking his first union contract. So far, Minneapolis security employers have refused to negotiate with Robert and his co-workers in good faith.
Robert would love to be able to sit down with security employers and negotiate but he’s already seen that things aren’t that easy.
“If you want to make a change, you have to fight for it,” he says.
A veteran of the U.S. Army, Robert knows a little something about fighting. “My dad was in the military too,” he says. “I was raised with the idea that you serve your country.”
“Something has to change,” he says. “Without unions it’s going to be rich or poor. In 10 or 15 years there will be no middle class. That’s going to be a sad day for America. And that’s why we’re fighting–for our kids, for a whole way of life.”
More than 6,000 janitors and security officers march with their allies after bargaining committees call for a strike vote
Minneapolis, MN – After months of dealing with bad bargaining by employers, Twin Cities janitors and security officers have set a date for a strike vote. Today members of SEIU Local 26 began circulating strike petitions for a vote scheduled for February 9.
“We’ve tried to bargain in good faith,” said Demetruis Moore, a member of the bargaining committee who’s worked as a security officer for more than five years. “But it’s clear they have no intention of doing so. Either come to the table and bargain in good faith, or we’re done. (more…)
by Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Twin Cities security officers and janitors are headed back to the bargaining table, after their contracts with maintenance and security companies expired.
The contracts for security officers in Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as 4,200 janitors that clean commercial buildings in the seven-county metro area, expired Dec. 31 said Javier Morillo, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 26 based in Minneapolis.
“The members of Local 26 keep those commercial office spaces safe and clean,” Morillo said.
The 4,200 janitorial workers with SEIU voted to strike in 2009, but reached a contract settlement before work stopped. About 1,000 security officers walked out in a one-day strike in Minneapolis and St. Paul in 2008, but agreed to a contract in April.
Janitors and Security Officers talk about the value of have a Union Contract and the process to improved their life though the Contract negotiation.
This video was produced by University of Minnesota students in the Department of Chicano/a & Latino/a Studies class 4275. Fall 2012