Janitors doubt they’ll benefit from retail wage hikes

CTUL-final-logo1The parent company of T.J. Maxx and Marshalls yesterday announced it would copy Walmart’s decision to raise minimum hourly wages for U.S. workers to $9 per hour by June. But a Twin Cities-based worker center cast doubt on whether the change would benefit the low-wage workers who clean those stores.

That’s because TJX Cos. contracts out the cleaning work in many of its Twin Cities stores, according to CTUL, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha.

The worker center has been organizing retail janitors around improving working standards in the industry since 2010, and it counts several workers who have cleaned Marshalls among its members. They report layers of contractors and subcontractors separating janitors from the stores they clean – an arrangement that has led to allegations of wage theft, unsafe working conditions and abuse.

CTUL member Antonio Villarreal worked for a subcontractor of Kellermeyer Bergenson’s Services as a janitor inside a Marshalls store. He said:

Last year I worked for about two months cleaning a Marshalls store without getting paid a cent. The guy who hired me was a subcontractor with KBS, and he left town without paying me $1,680. Then I found out that within a one-year period, 26 workers at 5 different KBS sub-contractors had approached CTUL in 17 different incidents with complaints of wage theft that add up to well over $17,000! In one incident, when one of the workers asked about her unpaid wages, her supervisor head-butted her husband, sending him to the hospital.

CTUL Co-Director Brian Payne called on TJX Cos. to follow Target’s lead and implement a Responsible Contractor Policy for its stores in the Twin Cities.

In an agreement reached with CTUL last year, Target pledged to do business with contractors that do not force janitors to work seven days a week, allow formation of safety committees made up of at least 50 percent workers and provide protections for workers to join a union without fear of retaliation.

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