Sat 18 Apr 2015
Posted by brian under Uncategorized
“Poverty Wages and Quality of Health in the Contracted Cleaning of Target Stores in the Twin Cities Metro Area”
The Minnesota Department of Health recently published two alarming reports about the connections between poverty and quality of health. According to the reports:
- “The growing economic inequities and the persistence of health disparities in our great state are a matter of life and death for many. Communities across the state are being devastated by high rates of infant mortality, diabetes, suicide, and more,” (“Advancing Health Equity in Minnesota: Report to the Legislature”, Minnesota Department of Health, February 2014, introduction letter; emphasis ours).
- A difference of only three miles in the Twin Cities metro area could equal up to a 13-year life span difference (“Advancing Health Equity in Minnesota: Report to the Legislature”, Minnesota Department of Health, February 2014, page 23).
- “The health effects of poverty accumulate over the years, leading to poorer health and shorter lives. For children, the impact of wealth on health is cumulative…Children from less affluent families…are more likely to experience conditions that limit their health such as injuries, inadequate or delayed health care, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, insecure or substandard housing, and exposure to toxins, high lead levels, and violence (“White Paper on Income and Health,” Minnesota Department of Health, February 13, 2014, page 3).
Between January and March 2014, CTUL conducted a health and safety survey with retail janitors who work for companies that are contracted to clean stores such as Target in the Twin Cities metro area. The results of the survey provide important insight into the recent studies of the Minnesota Department of Health, providing both statistical analysis and anecdotal evidence of the connection between poverty wages and quality of health within one low-wage industry in the Twin Cities metro area. Workers in this survey repeatedly state that because of their low wages they cannot afford to provide basic needs for their families including going to the doctor, and that having to work two jobs is taking a severe toll on their bodies through sleep deprivation, stress and more. This places a significant burden on the state to cover the costs related to poverty wages and health concerns of low wage workers through public assistance programs.
In addition, these surveys provide a disturbing insight into the potentially dangerous conditions that retail janitorial companies place both upon hundreds of janitors and their children, and hundreds of thousands of consumers who shop at stores in the metro area. Often times, working conditions seem to contradict the social responsibility vendor policies of the corporate chains that are cleaned, such as Target Corporation’s Standard of Vendor Engagement (“Our SOVE includes eight business principles that form the basis of our social compliance program. We will not knowingly work with any company that does not comply with our ethical standards.”).
CTUL collected a total of 83 health and safety surveys from retail janitors who work for four of the largest retail janitorial companies that operate in the Twin Cities metro area: Carlson Building Maintenance, Diversified Maintenance Systems, Prestige Maintenance USA, and Eurest Services. We estimate that this represents around 15% of the retail janitorial market in the Twin Cities metro area. Of the surveys, 49 of the workers clean Target stores in the Twin Cities metro area. We estimate that this represents around 33% of the janitors who clean Target stores in the Twin Cities metro area.
“How many days a week do you work”
According to Target Corporation’s Standard of Vendor Engagement, “…workers shall have at least one in seven days off” (business principle number 5). 55% of the respondents who work for companies that clean Target stores in the Twin Cities metro area report that they work seven days a week. Over two-thirds of those respondents state that given the choice, they would like to work fewer days per week while retaining the same number of hours, in order to have free time for themselves and their families.
“Have you ever had to go to work sick because you don’t have sick days?”
66% of all of the respondents responded yes. 67% of the respondents who clean Target stores responded yes. According to some workers:
- “I tried to call in sick and they told me I have to come.”
- “They get angry when you are sick. They say they don’t have anyone to cover you and you have to come into work.”
- “If you call in sick, you have to give a doctor’s note so they won’t say anything. But there is not enough money to go to the doctor, so I have to work sick.”
“Would you like to change anything about your workload?”
60% of all respondents responded yes. 43% of all of the respondents specifically responded that they are understaffed.
73% of the respondents who clean Target stores responded yes. 55% of the respondents who clean Target stores specifically responded that they are understaffed. At least six respondents who clean Target stores state that they are not able to take breaks during their shift. This is particularly significant because the survey did not ask workers specifically about their breaks. We project that the number of workers who report not being able to take breaks during their shift would be much higher if this question were asked more directly.
“Have you ever been hurt on the job?”
14% of all of the respondents responded yes. 16% of the respondents who clean Target stores responded yes. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the incidence rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses within janitorial services in 2012 was 4.1% (http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/osh/os/ostb3581.pdf).
“Do you need more health and safety trainings and/or safety equipment?”
43% of all of the respondents responded yes. Of those who responded yes:
- 39% state there is a lack of safety equipment (first aid kit, eye protection, etc.)
- 33% state they need more training about chemicals
- 42% state they need more training on how to operate the machines
41% of the respondents who clean Target stores responded yes. Of those who responded yes:
- 40% state there is a lack of safety equipment (first aid kit, eye protection, etc.)
- 45% state they need more training about chemicals
- 50% state they need more training on how to operate the machines
“Is the wage you are paid enough to provide for you and/or your family without having to work two jobs?”
According to Target’s Standards of Vendor Engagement: “…we encourage vendors to improve wages and benefits to address the basic needs of workers and their families” (business principle number six). 100% of the all of the respondents, as well as 100% of the respondents who clean Target stores state that they are not paid enough to provide for themselves and/or their families. The average wage that all of the respondents state they would need to be able to provide for them and/or their families is $13.12 per hour, and for the respondents who clean Target store $13.29 per hour. Most retail janitors in the Twin Cities metro area are currently paid between $8-9 and hour.
“How does your wage impact your health and your family’s health”
- “We do not make enough to go to the doctor. My wife did not have insurance, and that was hard when she gave birth to my son.”
- “$8 is not enough. I’m tired all day and night. I’m completely thrown off. I am sick, and have two jobs, and it’s impossible for my body to recover.”
- “First gas is expensive. I have two jobs, and I have to buy food for myself and my mother. We always buy the specials, and we still don’t have enough.”
- “We have to have two jobs. It’s extremely hard. When I am sick, I can’t get better because I have to work. It’s tough and sometimes impossible to eat well because there is not time to cook.”
- “I am a student so many times I have to buy books myself, which makes it difficult to pay for other things I need such as health care, doctor appointments, immunizations and dentist appointments.”
- “It is not enough because it doesn’t cover for clothes for my child, or food and many other things.”
- “It impacts me in many ways. I can’t buy things for my daughter to make sure she is doing well and is healthy. There is no insurance, and at this wage it’s not enough to get insurance.”
- “It’s not enough to cover health insurance. Because of that I did not go to the doctor until my sickness got really bad. Now my eye is bad and because of that I only work 3-4 days per week. I have to go to the doctor regularly, and now I have to survive with less days.”
- “Having two jobs makes me overwork my body. Especially working at night – your body needs to rest more, but I can’t because I have to work two jobs.”
- “I can’t sleep well, and my body gets tired. I’m worried that I’m destroying my body.”
- “$8/hour is not enough. I have two jobs. I have to leave my kids alone, and that is not healthy for them. I barely see them. My body gets exhausted.”
- “If I want to buy other things, I don’t have enough – not even for gas. Sometimes it’s only $500 in two weeks, not enough for one person and I have children.”
- “$8 is not enough. I work two jobs. I’m very stressed. I can’t focus on any one thing.”
- “I have another job, and it tires me out. During the week I only sleep 5 hours per day. Sometimes I can’t pay hospital bills for my children.”
- “It is always tough to pay bills and it causes a lot of stress at home. For example, the person who takes care of our children is not the same quality as a day care center.”
- “It’s not enough to maintain my family. I sleep around 4 hours a day and I can’t have an appointment with my doctor because I don’t have insurance.”
- “I don’t have time with my new baby because I have to work so much. I would work five days if they paid more and gave more hours.”
- “I barely see my son. I barely sleep, like 5-6 hours a day, and there is a lot of stress.”
- “I don’t sleep because someone has to work. There is a lot of stress because when you don’t sleep well you get angry and when my kid is sick I have to find someone to watch him.”
- “One job is not enough with the low wages, and because of the schedule at night it is a little tough to have a second job. Getting sick costs a lot of money.”
- “It lowers my esteem. I have two jobs only sometimes. I don’t have enough to go to the doctor. I have debt from my electricity and gas bills because of my low wages.”
Janitors who work for companies that are contracted to clean office buildings in the Twin Cities metro area face a much different reality. The overwhelming majority of office building janitors are union and earn a starting wage of $14.27 an hour with access to benefits such as paid sick leave and affordable health care. Paying fair wages with access to benefits, and ensuring a voice in the workplace through a union contract significantly increases the health benefits to the workers, significantly reduces the possibility of accidents that impact consumers, and significantly reduces the burden on the state to cover public assistance programs. We recommend that retail janitorial companies recognize workers’ rights to join a union without fear of retaliation.
Working conditions in the contracted out retail cleaning of large stores like Target in the Twin Cities metro area – from low-wages to heavy workload – create a dangerous work environment that not only impacts the health of hundreds of low-wage workers, but potentially thousands of children of janitors in the Twin Cities metro area. The cumulative impact is a matter of life and death for many workers and their families, creating the conditions in which children of retail janitors can expect to live 13 years less than children from affluent families. Cleaning companies are stealing years off of the lives of workers and workers’ families by paying poverty wages. The multiple quotes from respondents about the impacts of low-wage on their lives provide a dire glimpse into the world of poverty wages, where workers cannot provide basic needs for their families including going to the doctor, and where people have to work two jobs taking a severe toll on their bodies through sleep deprivation, stress and more.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of consumers who shop in the stores in the Twin Cities metro area are impacted by these issues. Two-thirds of the workers who clean the stores where we buy our food, clothes and other essential needs report that they are forced to come to work sick, potentially contaminating their work environment, and in extension the shopping space. There is also a higher chance for shoppers to be injured in the store when the janitors are forced to cut corners because they overwhelmed by a heavy workload and are overly stressed from having to work two jobs to make ends meet.
Retail janitors have been organizing to gain the right to join a union without fear of retaliation in order to create a healthier workplace and consumer space, but the retail janitorial companies have refused to meet with workers. Retail janitorial companies should meet with workers and recognize workers’ rights to collectively bargain without fear of retaliation.