Retail janitors pledge strikes will continue until conditions improve

web.CTUL-strikeA day after union janitors walked off the job in an unfair-labor-practices strike, non-union janitors organizing with the Twin Cities-based worker center CTUL did the same, picketing early this morning outside Macy’s on the Nicollet Mall.

It marked the seventh time in the last three years CTUL janitors, who clean big-box stores, car dealerships and other retail properties, have gone on strike to protest low pay, backbreaking conditions and rampant wage theft in the industry.

Luciano Balbuena, who cleans an area Home Depot, said the strikes would continue until cleaning contractors engage in a meaningful dialogue with workers about their concerns.

“We have been demanding from our companies for some time to respect what we’re asking for, and they refuse,” Balbuena, an employee of the cleaning contractor Kimco, told supporters on the picket line. “I hope this strike is the last we’ll have to have, and we will win fair wages and working conditions.”

Organizing through CTUL, a Spanish acronym for “Center of Workers United in Struggle,” has led to significant victories for retail janitors in the past, including a Responsible Contractor Agreement with Target that sets scheduling, safety and other standards the retailer’s Twin Cities cleaning contractors must meet.

And earlier this week, CTUL janitors who cleaned Macy’s and Herberger’s stores won $425,000 in unpaid wages and damages after settling a class-action lawsuit against Capital Building Services Group.

The back-pay is welcome, CTUL member Jesus Sanchez said, but it shouldn’t take a lawsuit for janitors to get paid for the hours they work.

“Wage theft is an all too common problem for retail janitors,” Sanchez said. “We don’t need a band-aid. We need a cure. And that cure is a voice on the job, union rights and $15 an hour.”

After walking the picket line for nearly two hours before dawn, striking janitors from CTUL and SEIU Local 26 marched alongside allies in the labor, faith and progressive community, blocking traffic at several downtown intersections during rush hour.

Protesters called on corporations to do their part in addressing Minnesota’s racial and economic disparities – among the most glaring in the nation.

“While Minnesota houses some of the wealthiest corporations in the country it also houses some of the worst racial and economic disparities in the nation,” said Donna Cassutt, Director of Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, which organized the march. “Minnesota’s largest corporations harm communities of color when they pay poverty wages, don’t invest in our schools by paying their fair share and practice toxic banking practices that pollute our environment and extract wealth from our communities.

“These corporations have the ability to powerfully impact our communities if they stand up and do the right thing by paying a living wage.”

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