Twin Citites janitors vote to authorize strike

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February 1, 2010 // UPDATED 10:38 am - February 1, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
A near unanimous vote by over 500 union members has given Downtown janitors the authority to strike.

Over 4,000 janitors in the Twin Cities have been working without a contract since Jan. 8. Negotiations with cleaning contractors have made little progress since then, and last Saturday's vote gives the bargaining committee the power to call a strike.

Two more negotiation dates have been scheduled over the following weeks, but the affirmative vote means that the janitors who clean the vast majority of Downtown office buildings could walk off the job at any time.

One of the major sticking points in talks is the green cleaning agenda proposed by the janitors. SEIU Local 26 has sought a transition to day shift cleaning, which the union argues could reduce energy costs by up to 8 percent. Other points of contention include health care and the reduction of janitors' hours. The union claims that cut backs on cleaners' hours have resulted in a 25 percent reduction in income.

"With our economy in a recession, we sought specific ways for the janitorial industry to save money and achieve cost predictability so that it could be a win-win for everyone," said Javier Morillo-Alicea, President of SEIU Local 26. "Unfortunately, the companies have responded by demanding the elimination of full-time jobs, bargaining in bad faith and retaliating against union members."

In a statement released after the vote, the cleaning companies reiterated their commitment to negotiating an agreement. 

 "We are deeply disappointed with the union's action and urge them to join us in working to negotiate a contract in the mutual best interest of workers, tenants and building owners and managers," the statement reads. "Regardless of their rhetoric, we are prepared to sit down again at the bargaining table."

The maintenance contractor companies involved in the bargaining -- ABM Janitorial Services; FBG Service Corporation; Harvard Maintenance, Inc.; Mid-City Cleaning Contractors, Inc.; and Triangle Services -- maintain that Twin Cities janitors are paid significantly higher wages and benefits than their counterparts in other major Midwestern cities. The companies cite a challenging local real estate market as rendering unrealistic janitors' demands for wage increases and increased company contributions to health care coverage.