Union janitors in the Twin Cities reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract with area cleaning contractors after a marathon bargaining session ended in the early-morning hours March 7. The settlement prevented janitors from staging a second strike.
About 4,000 janitors, 90 percent of whom are people of color, will see their wages increase by 12.3 percent over the next four years as a result of the new contract – proof, union leaders said, that collective bargaining can be an effective tool in fixing the Twin Cities’ alarming racial disparities.
Maplewood resident Brahim Kone, who works as a janitor in downtown St. Paul and served on SEIU Local 26’s bargaining team, said the new contract includes “the largest raise in decades for Twin Cities janitors, moving full-time workers like myself over $15 immediately.”
“This is a big win for our union and a big win for our community,” Kone added. “Janitors stood together through many months to win what is right, and we are so excited for this victory.”
In addition to wage increases, the contract extends full health benefits and paid-sick days to part-time janitors, improves health insurance coverage while protecting low premiums, and includes a new “just cause” clause that protects janitors from being fired without reason.
Landmark safety language
The contract also includes landmark language to address workload concerns.
A report released earlier this year found staffing cuts over the last decade have created dangerous, backbreaking conditions in the industry, with many janitors cleaning the equivalent of 20 homes in one night on the job. And building-cleaning and maintenance occupations had the highest rate of lost time due to work-related injury or illness in Minnesota during 2014.
New protections in the contract will give janitors a voice in assessing the safety of their workloads. The contract also calls for a professional study of the workload issue by the University of Minnesota.
Lucia Guaman, a janitor who works for Harvard cleaning RBC Plaza in Minneapolis, said a supervisor once responded to her workload concerns by telling her to “vacuum with one hand, mop with the other and dust with your mouth.” That’s likely to change under the new contract.
“People were intimidated to discuss workload or even report when they get injured,” Guaman said. “Now we have an avenue to fix this crisis, and we hope this means we no longer will hear stories about janitors too hurt and sore from work to play with their children.”