On Friday, The Nation labor reporter Josh Eidelson reported that approximately 150 contracted cleaning workers (janitors) who clean Target stores in Minnesota have threatened to strike if the three contractors they work for do not meet to address safety and labor law violations, as well as the firing of two workers a week after one of them appeared in a campaign video. The non-unionized janitors, contractors for Target facilities in Minneapolis and St. Paul, are led by Twin Cities labor group Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL). The janitors – not employed by Target – work through three janitorial contractors: Prestige Maintenance USA, Diversified Maintenance Systems, and Carlson Building Maintenance.
The strike threat follows a series of OSHA charges alleging that employees of those companies were denied proper safety training and legally required breaks and mealtimes, and are locked inside of Target stores, and National Labor Relations Board charges alleging that they were retaliated against for organizing. The charges and the strike threat were spearheaded by the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), a Twin Cities labor group that, as The Nation reported, has been organizing retail cleaning workers for two years.
Former employee Honorio Hernandez reported:
“At 11 at night, I would ring the doorbell to get let in, and then from there, we would be locked in the store all night, until 7 am when they opened the store. I was scared that something would happen, and I wouldn’t be able to get out of the store…. But I never complained about it because I was scared that I would lose my job.” (Source)
CTUL has been collaborating with Service Employees International Union (SEIU), whose members clean commercial offices in the Twin Cities, including Target corporate offices. According to CTUL organizer Veronica Mendez, the employees made the decision to prepare for a strike in meetings last weekend. She said that “ we’ve got a core group of really strong leaders,” and “More than likely workers will be going on strike on Tuesday.” (Source)
“We’re looking to that as a model of how we need to stand up…” said Mendez. “We can’t wait for the companies to continue to retaliate.” She said that “workers are very isolated,” and “ we’ve been figuring out different ways that we can get workers to meet with each other one-on-one…so they can speak to each other and understand their struggle in a broader context.”
The two groups hope to win formal union recognition and collective bargaining for CTUL members. At that point, CTLM members would become members of SEIU in addition to remaining members of CTUL. Workers in both groups could go on strike simultaneously. CTUL and SEIU have set a joint strike deadline for resolution. The National Labor relations charges allege that the janitors have suffered retaliation because they’ve organized.
An emailed statement from Target spokesperson Molly Snyder stated:
“As these individuals are not employed by Target, I’d have to refer you to their employers.” (Source)
In a January interview with The Nation, Prestige’s general counsel said that the company complies with the law. Carlson and Prestige have not responded with a request for a statement about the charges, but when asked about the strike threat, Diversified General Counsel Andrea Kiehl said.
“We have reports by employees that they feel like they are harassed by the CTUL and do not want to participate. And so it’s our feeling that the CTUL does not have as great of a support among the Diversified employees as… what they portray to the public.”
Wagering a guess, I’d say it’s likely that the employees do not want to participate for fear of losing their jobs and other retaliation. She can’t seriously mean that these people want to continue working in unsafe conditions.
When asked if Diversified would fire workers if they strike next week, Kiehl said,
“That’s not a decision that the company has made at this time. But we are committed to serving our customers, and all cleaning will continue whether we have employees that engage in the strike or not.” (Source)
Kiehl claims Diversified offers employees good benefits for full-time workers, but she was evasive when asked how many of the workers are full-time. She claims that diversified has tried to address these issues in the past.
“[...] has asked the CTUL on different occasions to provide us with information regarding what working conditions they want to discuss, and we still don’t know what those working conditions are…But Diversified does not intend to talk to CTUL about CTUL unionizing our employees. And CTUL is not an officially registered union.” (Source)
Alejejandro Quirino, Diversified Maintenance Systems employee and CTUL activist, told The Nation:
“I guess I’d say I’m not scared because I’m fed up and sick and tired of how they’ve treated us, and how our demands have been ignored. And that’s why I’m going to go on strike. If I get fired, I know I was fighting for what’s right, and putting in what I could to fight for what’s fair.” He continued “Management told one of my co-workers that if a worker tries to strike or organize with their co-workers, they’ll be fired. The effect I want the strike to have is that they see us, as workers,” he said. “That they know that our voice counts too, that we have a right to a better salary and to better benefits, and that we have the right to organize.”
Target joins Walmart, fast-food restaurants, and even car washes in a growing list of companies nationwide whose employees are rising up against poor wages and unacceptable working conditions. These people go in, usually earning minimum wage or slightly above, and do an honest days hard work and usually receive no benefits. That in itself is bad enough, but throw in unsafe working conditions and being locked inside a building with no way out? Please. It’s too much. Working class people in America have had enough.
(Note: If you cannot see the subtitles for the spanish speaking parts, watch it on Youtube. --Ilia)