For janitors and security officers in Minneapolis, members of SEIU Local 26, a raise would help bring them above the poverty line. It would allow them to pay for basic necessities, including groceries, school, rent or mortgage. And they're prepared to fight for themselves, their fellow workers, and their families in order to achieve those things.
As the next step in their fight for a living wage and and affordable health care, members of Local 26 held a rally in downtown Minneapolis yesterday after contract bargaining came to a standstill. At the rally a strike petition was circulated, with a strike vote is scheduled for February 9.
"It's not fair that while our productivity is going up, our wages are not keeping pace," said Margarita Del Angel, a janitor who spoke at the rally. "We are being forced to do more and more work for the same amount, so our employers can cut back on workers and save money at our expense. And now, they are demanding to pay us even less. They want to cut wages for more than half of us...They want to lock us into poverty, while continuing to grow richer at our expense."
For the first time ever, more than 6,000 janitors and security officers in the Twin Cities and suburbs are negotiating new contracts simultaneously. In 2008, a new contract was negotiated for 1,000 security officers after they struck in downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. In 2006 and 2009, janitors voted to authorize strikes, but both were narrowly averted.
The average worker in Local 26 earns $20,503 annually. The federal poverty line for a family of four is $23,050.
Members of SEIU Local 26 clean and protect some of the Twin Cities' largest office buildings that house some of the wealthiest corporations in the country, including Target, US Bank, and Wells Fargo. The contracts expired December 31, but after months of negotiations, employers are still unwilling to bargain in good faith.
"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. We'll see you in the streets."
If Local 26 members vote on February 9 to authorize a strike, the bargaining committees would then decide when and if a strike was necessary, as well as set a date for a strike. If a strike were to happen, it would be one of the largest strikes to ever happen in downtown Minneapolis.
"While we are proposing fair raises to move workers forward, our employers are demanding cuts. This would move workers backwards," said Moore, the member of the bargaining committee. "The corporate elite in this country have the power to help unlock a better future for all of Minnesota. It's time they do that."
Click here to add your name to the growing number of people who are supporting Minneapolis janitors and security officers as they fight for a better future.