Marsden-employed janitors call off strike authorization

Share this:
February 15, 2010 // UPDATED 1:47 pm - February 25, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
Of the Downtown janitors currently threatening to strike, at least a portion of them have reached a détente with their employers, according to statements released Tuesday by both Service Employees International Union Local 26 and Marsden Building Maintenance.

On Tues., Feb. 23, the Marsden-employed janitors — some 900 cleaning staff working in 189 buildings Downtown — called off their strike authorization, which their union had declared on Jan. 30, citing progress made in negotiations. The union’s statement makes clear that SEIU Local 26 janitors not employed by Marsden are still prepared to walk off the job at any time.

Over 4,000 Twin Cities janitors, including the 1,200 employed by Marsden, have been working without a contract since Jan. 8. Bargaining has stalled considerably since then, with both parties divided over full-time eight hour schedules, affordable health care and a host of “green cleaning” initiatives, the biggest being the use of more environmentally-friendly cleaning products and a transition to day-shift cleaning, which the union argues can save building owners up to 8 percent in energy costs.

According to the Marsden statement, the two parties have reached several “non-economic tentative agreements” — meaning agreements on issues not pertaining to wages or benefits. The statement lists three:

- Establishing a process, which leaves customers in control of their buildings, for managing transitions when building service contracts transfer between union contractors
- Establishing a process between Marsden and the union where there is a significant schedule change for employees in large buildings
- A gradual increase of daily scheduled work hours for full-time Marsden employees reaching eight hours per day by 2012. Instead of eight 6.1-hour-per-day cleaners in a building, there would be six 8-hour-per-day cleaners.

These last two items most directly address the janitors’ concerns.

The “significant schedule change” refers to a potential transition to day-shift cleaning. Marsden president Chris Norgren said that while his company unconditionally supports the trend toward day-shift cleaning, such transitions are logistically complicated, and the final decision on whether to switch lies ultimately with the business owners. Marsden has agreed to map out a clear process for the transition, so that if a building does decide to make the change, they can do so more efficiently.

“We basically agreed that we would give janitors as much head’s up as we could” should a major change in schedule take place, Norgren said.

Marsden also agreed to continue its use of green cleaning products, though refused to mandate specific brands or environmental certifications.

“Marsden has been using green products to do what we do for over 14 years,” said Norgren. “And the other contractors in the market do not, necessarily. The union wanted some consistency for their membership, and I get that. It’s the right thing to do.”

In negotiating these points, Marsden acted independently from other contract cleaning companies involved in the dispute — ABM, FBG, Harvard, Mid-City and Triangle. Marsden chose not to join them in their “convenience bargaining” group.

“Marsden made this decision largely because the members of the convenience bargaining group made it very clear they would walk away from the table at any time if things weren’t going their way,” Norgren said. “The very big contractors, ABM and Harvard, have corporate headquarters elsewhere. One’s in San Francisco and one’s in New York. And what happens is, we get to the end of the negotiating, and they can’t do something that we agree on because their national entity says we can’t go there. And so they leave.”

Marsden has a national footprint as well, but its offices are headquartered in St. Paul.

Still, the two sides are a long way from a final resolution.

“We have many long bargaining hours ahead of us before the deal is complete,” Norgren added.

SEIU Local 26, for its part, hopes to use the step forward for leverage in negotiating with the other contractors.

“If Marsden can agree to use safer chemicals and move towards 8-hour full-time jobs, then so can ABM and Harvard,” said Bryant Thomas, a janitor at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, and a member of the union bargaining team.

The companies met again with janitors on Tuesday, for only the fourth bargaining session in February.