Community notebook :: Convention Center 'mini parade'

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January 18, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
Convention Center shows previewed in ‘Mini Parade’

An odd smattering of vehicles — convertibles, motorcycles, boats and RV campers — made its way down Nicollet Mall at noon on Jan. 6, in a mobile advertisement for the Minneapolis Convention Center’s 2010 consumer show season.

Representatives from the Minneapolis Boat Show, Minneapolis/St. Paul RV Vacation & Camping Show, Minneapolis Auto Show and Northwest Sportshow grinned and waved at a scant audience, who either braved the 8 degree chill to watch the procession outside or camped out in the heated skyways for a more comfortable vantage. Executives from Meet Minneapolis, the association charged with promoting the Convention Center, huddled together in a Ford convertible. Skaters from the Northstar Rollergirls roller derby league, which has hosted its bouts in the Convention Center since 2007, also made an appearance.

Peggy Lero, of Fridley-based RV retailer Hilltop Trailer Sales, piloted a 28-foot travel trailer through Downtown. “They’re not as scary as they look,” she said. “If I can do it, anyone can.” Lero and her business partner Jerry Pearo have been coming to the Minneapolis RV Vacation & Camping show since 1971. “If you’re really into the RV lifestyle, this is a great way to see what’s out there, all the new models, all the new campgrounds.”

Laurie Hallowell, show manager for the event, whose employer Affinity Events puts on about 48 RV shows nationwide, claims that the Minneapolis production is one of the biggest.

The Northstar Rollergirls have also come to appreciate the myriad events that take place in the Convention Center. They skate in one of the facility’s exhibition halls, explained media liaison Jer, “so when there’s a bout, there’s usually a lot of other stuff going on in the building. We get a lot of walk-in traffic.”

“The fishing show gets kind of crazy,” he added. “But that’s cool.”

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Activists jam skyways in support of Gaza Freedom March

On Dec. 30, about 150 local peace activists packed into the Hennepin County Government Center over the lunch hour. The demonstration sought to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Israel’s 22-day assault on the Palestinian city last winter, as well as to show Minnesota’s support of the Gaza Freedom March, an international coalition of 1,400 activists that has been trying to enter Gaza from Egypt with food and supplies. The Egyptian government has so far denied the group entry to Gaza, stranding the marchers — which include seven Minnesotans — indefinitely in Cairo.

Similar marches occurred in cities worldwide.

On Dec 31, thousands of protesters descended on Gaza border crossings to protest the Israeli siege of the city. Gaza’s borders have been completely closed for over a year, beginning soon after Israel’s offensive on Dec. 27, 2008. The resulting blockade, activists claim, has resulted in rampant violations of human rights.

After a rally held in the skyway level lobby, where demonstrators sang peace songs to the tunes of Christmas carols, the activists paraded through the skyway system, clogging the elevated walkways with swarms of traditional Palestinian keffiyehs, CODEPINK T-shirts and posters featuring a young boy’s face and the slogan “I Am Gaza.”  

Putting a child’s face on the crisis in Gaza was a major theme of the demonstration.

“Fifty percent of the population [in Gaza] is under the age of 18, and 70 percent of the population is under the poverty line,” said organizer Elisabeth Geschiere. “It’s quite evident that there’s a crisis affecting children.”

In addition to the posters, activists were also encouraged to bring their own children out to participate in the skyway march.

According to Jewish news service JTA, Egyptian security told Reuters it would open the Rafah crossing for three days beginning on Jan. 3, to allow Palestinian students, those seeking medical attention, and Egyptian residents to pass through. Rafa is the only crossing into Gaza that does not require passage through Israel.

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Downtown janitors march for green jobs

As the Gaza activists crowded around the Government Center’s skyway level reflecting pool, a separate demonstration gathered steam one floor below.

During the Dec. 30 lunch hour, hundreds of downtown janitors and their supporters jammed the street level lobby, bedecked in the purple ski caps and windbreakers of their union, SEIU Local 26, which represents the 4,000 janitors that clean the majority of the buildings in the seven-county metropolitan area. A march through the skyway kicked off Local 26’s campaign to package green cleaning reform into their current contract negotiations.

“With our economy in a recession, we all need to think about ways to make our work smarter,” said Javier Morillo-Alicea, president of SEIU Local 26. “We want to help make this industry part of our new green economy by increasing the use of green cleaning products with safer chemicals, recycling more trash and supporting the transition to day-shift cleaning.”

Once the demonstration reached its max capacity, protesters charged up the escalators to the skyway lobby, brushing past the Gaza marchers and flooding into the skyway system. Chants of “Yes we can!” — shouted in English, Hmong, Spanish and Somali — carried into the atrium of Capella Tower.

With its current contract set to expire on Jan. 8, the union has been engaged in tense labor contract negotiations — negotiations that threaten to make permanent, in the words of Morillo-Alicea, “the very reactionary proposal currently on the table.”

Downtown janitors have suffered a reduction of hours, says Morillo-Alicea, forcing the work force unwillingly into a part-time industry. While the union hasn’t suffered much from layoffs, building managers have shortened many shifts from eight hours to six, a cost-saving measure that the current contract allows. Morillo-Alicea said that he would prefer to not “spread the pain around,” suggesting instead layoffs for a small number of workers in order to save the health insurance and benefits associated with full-time jobs. An even better way to save costs, the union claims, would be to transition janitors into day shifts.

“If the major business Downtown switched to day shifts, they could save $5 million annually, just from having their lights shut down at night,” said Morillo-Alicea. David Zaffrann, head of Research and Communications, cited a recent Twin Cities Business Journal article claiming that the Midtown Exchange building had saved 8 percent in energy costs by making such a switch.

The use of astringent cleaning products has also been a major point of contention. While safer chemicals are now available for little or no additional cost, SEIU 26’s website reports that the use of conventional, more harmful products is still pervasive in the Twin Cities. According to a recent member survey conducted by the union, over one-third of janitors report chemicals sometimes or often irritating their eyes or skin.

Reach Gregory J. Scott at gscott@mnpubs.com.