SEIU Local 26 members representing more than 6,000 workers through Twin Cities metro call for corporate elite to unlock their future
Minneapolis, MN - More than 500 janitors and security officers who clean and protect property for the richest corporations in Minnesota today voted to walk off the job over proposed cuts to full-time positions, living wages and health care and in protest of the employers' unfair labor practices. Today's vote authorizing both the janitors' and security officers' bargaining committees to call for a strike if necessary means that workers representing more than 6,000 janitors throughout Minneapolis, St. Paul and the suburbs could call for a strike at any time.
"If my job was cut to part-time, it would be like suicide," said Brahim Kone, a janitor at Flint Hills refinery. "I make just enough money now to pay the bills for my wife and my two children. I fear if my wages were cut, I would lose my home. We can not accept cuts that move us backward and push us into poverty - we must move forward."
"We need access to health care that covers our families," said Gene Worley, a security officer at Town Square in downtown St. Paul. "I'm not asking for free health care, just something I can afford which covers my family would help. Real family coverage - employee, spouse, children. "
For the first time ever in the Twin Cities, contracts for janitors and security officers with SEIU Local 26 expired simultaneously on December 31. Despite months of bargaining, employers continue giving workers the runaround, bargaining in bad faith by refusing to show up to negotiations and offering proposals full of cuts. Security contractors have proposed moving hundreds of positions to part-time, eliminating all benefits and access to health care. Janitorial contractors are proposing cuts to more than 50 percent of janitors, with cuts as high as 40 percent for many members. For many workers, health coverage for their family would cost around $700 a month.
"Without access to affordable family health insurance, I have to ask the state to get my family on a public health plan," said Alfredo Estrada, a janitor at the Minnesota Center. "I don't want to have to ask the state to support my family; I would like to care for my family myself. "
"As a janitor, I work around a lot of strong chemicals, so health insurance is really important," said Kone. "But I need better healthcare for my family. Right now, I can't afford to pay for family insurance through my employer. I would give them my whole check for that!"
The average full-time janitor qualifies for public assistance, including health care programs, due to wages just above the poverty line and a lack of access to affordable health care.
"When the rich, corporate elite shirk their responsibility that they have had to provide health care, the burden falls on the public," said Javier Morillo, President of SEIU Local 26. "This is just another example of the richest corporations refusing to pay their fair share and asking the taxpayers to subsidize the costs of doing business. These workers clean and protect the wealthiest corporations like Target, Wells Fargo and US Bank, yet they're too poor to even shop at Target or have money for a savings account with Wells Fargo or US Bank."
U.S. Representative Keith Ellison joined members and an array of labor, community and religious leaders to call for employers to help workers move forward through living wages.
All of us together can be powerful if we insist on dignity," said Congressman Ellison, "if we stand together, and if we fight for working families here in solidarity with workers everywhere."
CTUL, a workers center that supports non-union workers in retail stores also showed their support for Local 26 members.
"You clean and protect the office towers, the headquarters for the corporate elite," said Veronica Mendez. "Our members are cleaning the retail stores for those same companies. Target will continue to use us against one another unless we are willing to stand together. Today we say to you - as you prepare to strike, we are prepared to stand with you. Together, we will unlock a better future."
"We have bargained in good faith, and have sent forth a fair, beneficial proposal," said Worley. "But have received unrealistic counter offers when any have been offered to begin with. This cannot be allowed to continue. Now is the time to draw our line in the sand and call out all our brethren to do what we must to win a fair working contract. Now is the time to make our stand. Our ways of life are at stake, and the future of our families hang in the balance."