Community notebook :: Janitors union sets strike vote

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January 29, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
Janitors’ union sets date for strike vote

After two full weeks of working without a contract, a union representing more than 4,000 Twin Cities janitors decided last week to set a strike authorization vote over unfair labor practices. The vote was scheduled to take place on Saturday, Jan. 30, at the union’s weekly member meeting. At press time, the outcome was not yet known, but the Downtown Journal has been posting web updates regarding this story at downtownjournal.com.

SEIU Local 26 — Minnesota’s Property Services Union, which represents security officers and window cleaners in addition to janitors — had arranged for two additional weeks of negotiations at the end of last year, pushing the final deadline for a new contract to Jan. 8. That deadline came and went, with both sides no closer to an agreement. At a member meeting the following day, the union voted to set another two-week deadline “for companies to get serious,” according to SEIU Local 26 President Javier Morillo-Alicea.  That deadline expired Jan. 22, and the decision to set a strike authorization vote came at the following day’s member meeting.

“Honestly, I’m surprised by just how little movement there is, period,” Morillo-Alicea said after the Jan. 9 meeting. “It’s a complete refusal to engage. None of the principal issues have even been addressed by the companies.”

In a recent statement, he added, “It is unfortunate that the companies have responded by bargaining in bad faith and have pushed us into a public dispute that we sought to avoid.”

According to spokesman David Zaffrann, the union is pushing to bring environmentally friendly innovations to the industry while at the same time ensuring good full-time jobs for its members. A transition to day-shift cleaning is a central proposal, which the union claims could save building owners up to 8 percent on energy costs annually. Currently, janitors work mostly second shift, causing buildings to leave their lights on long after daytime employees have left.

Reduction of janitors’ hours has also been a concern. Zaffrann said that many shifts have been cut from eight hours to six hours per night, translating to a 25 percent decrease in income. Under the current contract, a 30-hour week is considered full-time, and all of the large Downtown office towers, more than 500,000 square feet in all, are required to offer 100 percent full time positions.

The employers’ proposal would eliminate any restrictions on what jobs have to be full-time, Zaffrann said.

The leading building maintenance companies have accused SEIU Local 26 of issuing “inaccurate public statements mischaracterizing the companies’ proposals.”

In a statement released shortly after the union’s decision to vote on a strike authorization, the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Contract Cleaners Association called the union’s proposals “simply unrealistic.”

“First, these janitors are paid significantly higher wages and benefits than their counterparts in other major Midwestern cities. Second, their compensation package includes excellent health care coverage for which they pay less than 6 percent of the costs. Third, the union proposed unaffordably high pay increases in excess of 15 percent and other significant benefit changes, including, for example, a 44 percent increase in the companies’ contributions to family health care coverage. These proposals are simply unrealistic given the current economic environment, which remains extremely challenging. This is especially true for our local real estate market, which has historically high vacancy rates.”

Readers can get the latest update on this and other news at downtownjournal.com.

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American Refugee Committee raises $1 million for Haiti

An international humanitarian aid agency based in Loring Park has announced that it has received almost $1 million in Haiti relief donations from Midwestern companies and individuals. According to the American Refugee Committee, more than 80 percent of cash donations came from Minnesota, and ARC

has attributed the large sum partly to “Minnesota’s famous spirit of generosity.”

“In crises, people show who they really are,” said ARC President Daniel Wordsworth. “This is America at its best.”

Wordsworth said the donations have helped secure ground and air transport for supplies and aid workers, as well as storage facilities for supplies once they arrive. The money has also helped purchase medical supplies, toiletries like toothbrushes and diapers and even soccer balls so that children have something safe to play with. Supplies have been distributed through Jimani, a city located near the Dominican Republic border.

ARC has eight aid workers currently stationed in Haiti, and more were scheduled to arrive soon. According to Wordsworth, the current focus is on the Delmas district of Port au Prince, home to 475,000 people. Aid workers there are distributing essential supplies for shelter, medical attention and sanitation; administering health care and trauma support; improving sanitation, hygiene and clean water supplies; and creating safe spaces for women and children.  

ARC officials say the group will remain in Haiti for several years.

“The devastation caused by these earthquakes leaves a long-lasting physical, mental and financial toll that will take years to overcome,” said Wordsworth. “But it can be done. Just look at New Orleans. After [Hurricane] Katrina, many thought that the city would never come back, but [we just had] a football playoff in the very stadium that served as temporary shelter after the hurricane.”

To make a donation tothe American Refugee Committee, visit arcrelief.org.

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Street near Target Field renamed Twins Way

The Minneapolis City Council and Mayor R. T. Rybak have approved renaming a street near the Minnesota Twins’ new ballpark as “Twins Way.” The name change applies to a stretch of 3rd Avenue North just south of Target Field, between 7th Street and 12th Street. Crews have already installed signs bearing the new name.

The new street signs are the finishing touches to a ballpark project completed on budget and two-months ahead of schedule. In the fall of 2009, Hennepin County and the Minnesota Ballpark Authority collaborated to widen the street’s sidewalks, add new lighting and install new bike racks.

City officials are using the name change to promote the stadium’s highly touted accessibility.

“We are excited that Hennepin County’s investment of federal stimulus funds will transform this street into a safe, convenient connection to the Cedar Lake Trail for both cyclists and pedestrians,” said Hennepin County Board Chair Mike Opat.

“This is more than just a new ballpark,” added Rybak. “It’s an exciting new part of our urban experience. The way Target Field is woven into the fabric of Downtown makes it a very accessible ballpark, whether you’re taking a train or bus, riding a bike, walking or driving down Twins Way.”

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Loring Park group throws benefit

Citizens for a Loring Park Community is throwing a fundraiser party at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis from 6 p.m.–9 p.m. on Feb. 11. The event will feature a silent auction and live music, as well as heavy hors d’oeuvres, desserts and a cash bar. And while the neighborhood association has been active since 1972, the upcoming fundraiser will be the group’s first.

“You know, we are not planner people. This isn’t the type of thing that we’re skilled at doing,” said CLPC spokeswoman Jan Sandberg. “But with the money situation for neighborhoods, we decided we have to be much more aggressive in how we’re raising funds.”

Sandberg reported receiving already 100 to 150 RSVPs and said she was quite excited about the silent auction items, the most sought-after being a pre-opening tour of the new Twins ballpark.

CLPC has also received donations to buy tickets for some residents.

“I think we should try to involve the whole neighborhood, and $50 can be a reach for some folks,” Sandberg said. “But we want to involve them.”