Hennepin County backs janitors union, environmental group on day shift cleaning

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January 18, 2010 // UPDATED 3:40 pm - January 26, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
Commissioner Peter McLaughlin announced today that, beginning March 1, the majority of the 150 buildings owned by Hennepin County will institute day shift schedules for their custodial crews, potentially saving the city $100,000 a year in energy costs and 1,600 tons in carbon dioxide emissions. The announcement coincided with the release of a report claiming that Twin Cities building owners could save up to $10 million a year by making a similar transition.

The report, issued by both the Blue Green Alliance and SEIU Local 26, links substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs to the simple act of shutting off a building’s lights in the evening. Since most Downtown janitors currently work second shift, skyscraper windows normally remain aglow long after employees have left for the night.

A switch to day shift cleaning has been a key issue in a bitterly stalled contract negotiation that has Downtown janitors on the verge of a strike. SEIU Local 26, which represents more than 4,000 Twin Cities janitors, has clashed with building maintenance companies over how to control cleaning costs, and the county’s announcement today came as a powerful endorsement of the union’s position.

About 50 of Hennepin County buildings already use day shift cleaning, McLaughlin said, including the Central Library and the Government Center. After the March 1 transition, that number will rise to 63. “We’ve tested this,” he said. “We’ve been strategic about it.”

“Janitors have the ability to make jobs greener simply by how they clean,” said Javier Morillo-Alicea, President of SEIU Local 26. “This report reflects that.”

Morillo-Alicea estimated that day shift cleaning could save the IDS Center $300,000 annually, and the Wells Fargo Center $250,000 annually. He also said that day shift schedules already in place have reduced cleaning complaints by 70 percent, mostly by increasing the interaction between cleaners and office employees.

“Because the janitor is no longer an invisible worker hidden by the dark of night. She has a name.”

But Morillo-Alicea added that day cleaning needed to be “incentive-ized” so that it benefits janitors and building tenants as well as building owners. This means using safer cleaning products, educating building occupants in the transition to day-shift cleaning, maintaining adequate staffing levels for janitors and preserving as many full-time jobs as possible.

“It’s not jobs versus the environment,” said David Foster, Executive Director of the Blue Green Alliance. Foster touted day shift cleaning as “a common sense thing” and cited its prevalent use in the Netherlands, Sweden and Toronto.

When asked how the skyline might look at night without the majority of its buildings illuminated, McLaughlin said, “Downtown would look darker. But it would also look smarter.”