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Target’s Contract Janitors Announce Strike In Minneapolis

The way Bonifacio Salinas sees it, cleaning a Target store in downtown Minneapolis isn’t a whole lot different from cleaning Target’s corporate headquarters in the same city. Mopping floors is mopping floors, the 63-year-old janitor says.

The difference is in the pay and benefits.

The janitors who clean the retailer’s headquarters at Target Plaza belong to the Service Employees International Union Local 26. According to the union, the 65 janitors who work for the contractor there earn an average of $13.92 per hour; are eligible for health care coverage, at a cost of $30 per paycheck; and receive two weeks of vacation, seven paid holidays and three sick days over the course of the year.

That’s considerably better than the terms of Salinas’ deal working for a janitorial contractor at a downtown Target store: $8.50 per hour, no health coverage, no paid leave.

“They’ve got decent wages and benefits, and we deserve the same thing,” said Salinas, a Mexican native who spoke through an interpreter. “We should all be making that.”

Salinas is one of an estimated 30 workers who declared a two-day strike Monday afternoon, according to the workers’ group Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), which advocates for many of the Latino janitors in the Twin Cities area. The group said Monday that the workers who went on strike are employed by four cleaning contractors, three of whom service Target stores throughout the retailer’s home city.

The Minneapolis strike is the latest in a spate of walkouts by low-wage workers around the country who are calling for higher wages and affordable health care,particularly in the fast-food and retail industries. Workers at places like McDonald’s and Taco Bell have walked off the job for one-day strikes in New York, Chicago and other cities, while roughly 100 Walmart employees recently went on strike and caravanned to the company’s shareholder meeting in Bentonville, Ark.

As with those other strikes, the Minneapolis cleaning company workers are technically striking over “unfair labor practices,” accusing their employers of violating labor law and infringing on their rights to bargain collectively. CTUL claims that two workers were unfairly fired because of their organizing efforts. U.S. labor law protects non-unionized workers who strike over such allegations.

But the underlying grievance of the janitors appears to be low pay and a lack of benefits for cleaning the city’s retail spaces.

“Workers have been organizing for three years for this campaign,” said Brian Payne, an organizer with CTUL. “The end goal is to be able to get better wages and better working conditions, and to gain that through winning a union contract.”

The four cleaning contractors — Carlson Building Maintenance, Diversified Maintenance Systems, Prestige Maintenance USA, and Eurest Services — did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Molly Snyder, a Target spokeswoman, noted that the retailer does not employ the workers and referred questions about the dispute to the cleaning companies.

“We are committed to maintaining the highest standards of ethical business practices and we expect our vendors to do the same,” Snyder said in an email. “We take complaints seriously, rely on thorough external audits of our housekeeping vendors and will terminate business with any vendor who can’t comply with those standards.”

It’s common for large retailers like Target to outsource the cleaning of their stores to smaller third parties, just as retail giants like Walmart outsource much of their warehouse operations to logistics companies and temp firms. Such an arrangement is cheaper for the company at the top of the chain, though it can come at a cost for workers at the bottom, many of whom work for close to minimum wage and don’t enjoy basic benefits or job security.

“At the end of the day, the workers work for the cleaning companies, but we do see a lot of power and influence in the hands of Target,” Payne said. “A lot of different cleaning companies are bidding for those contracts, so Target has this situation where all these companies are … underbidding one another” and putting downward pressure on wages.

Monday’s strike isn’t the first by CTUL’s retail janitors in Minneapolis. HuffPost reported on a hunger strike by a janitor named Jose Garcia at a Cub Foods store back in 2011. Although Garcia worked in a supermarket filled with food, he told HuffPost he earned wages so low that he relied on food pantries so as not to go hungry.

Salinas, the janitor at Target, lives with his sister to save money, and he’s taken on a second job cleaning and detailing cars just to get by. He said that while his wage as a janitor at Target has remained the same, his workload has increased in the past four months. Whereas management used to have four janitors to handle the same shift, the manpower has been reduced to three.

Payne said conditions improved slightly for some non-union janitors in the area after Garcia’s strike, with wages rising from around $7.50 to $8.50. But he argued that even those modest gains can be quickly erased, hence the need for a contract.

“As easily as they give that raise now, they can take it away tomorrow,” Payne said. “Also, at the end of the day, $8.50 an hour is not a living wage.”

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