Strike Two Reflection

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Target executives meet with striking janitors before 6/12 shareholder meeting

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Over the past six months there has been a growing wave of strikes led by low-wage workers, from fast food workers to retail workers at Walmart to retail janitors. From afar one might ask, what has been the effect of this movement? Looking here on the ground in the Twin Cities, we see significant change. Read on to see all of the momentum for change that has grown over the past few months – the movement is working! Still, these changes are just beginning…workers continue to organize to ensure long-term changes that ensure fair wages, fair working conditions and a voice in the workplace.

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On Monday, June 10, retail janitors who work for contracted companies cleaning Target and other stores in the Twin Cities metro area walked out on strike for the second time over the past four months. Well over twice the number of workers participated in this strike than the first. Hundreds of community allies poured into the streets to stand with workers on picket lines. So what is the result of all of this?

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  • A week before the strike began, Target executives agreed to meet with striking workers in Denver. One worker representative from each of the three companies that cleans Target stores in the metro area (Diversified Maintenance Systems, Carlson Building Maintenance, and Prestige Maintenance USA), as well as a worker representative from Eurest Services (which recently lost a contract to clean Target stores in the metro area), participated in the meeting. It was a respectful meeting in which Target heard our concerns. At the end, Target agreed to a follow up meeting to open dialogue about possible resolutions to industry-wide problems.

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  • During the two weeks building up to the strike, workers from many different companies reported receiving a raise. When we began this campaign, based on reports from workers the industry standard was around $7.50 an hour, with rampant examples of wage theft. Today, after the 5 mile March for Justice in Retail Cleaning, a 12-Day Hunger Strike and two ULP strikes, the industry standard is around $9.00 an hour, and examples of wage theft are few and far between. While this is significant, $9.00 an hour still places workers well below the poverty level, and any pay increases can be taken away tomorrow unless they are guaranteed by a contract.

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  • The first retail cleaning company in Minnesota signed an agreement respecting workers’ rights to organize without fear of retaliation – Anisca Floor Maintenance. According to Caleb Ambriz, General Manager of Anisca, “At Anisca we feel that it is important for all employees to be respected, treated fairly and be well compensated for their labor. Due to the nature of our industry some companies do anything they can to meet that bottom line, be it squeeze employees wages to below state required minimums, or other more unsavory tactics.  At times the fair treatment of employees can only be accomplished through the use of third parties such as Labor Unions Whether or not to use these mediums is a decision that the employees should take based on their own free will, that is why we chose to be the first to sign on to this agreement.”

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One of the striking workers, Enrique Barcenas, sums up the power of this moment: “Me and another striking worker drove with some allies 15 hours without sleeping at all, to have the chance to speak with Target representatives. I was nervous because I didn’t know what it would be like to meet with these people who have so much power. I didn’t know if they would listen to us or what they would say to us. But once I was sitting in the meeting, I lost my fear. I realized that I was sitting across the table from some pretty powerful people…which meant that I was also a powerful person.”

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While all of this is significant, the retail cleaning industry is still based on a competitive bidding process that pits dozens of cleaning companies against each other for the lowest possible bid. If the only standard for cleaning contracts is the lowest possible bid, workers will continue to face sub-poverty wages, and continued violations of federal and state labor laws. So, while we are hopeful that ongoing dialogue with Target will lead to improvements in the industry, until there is a resolution to these issues, workers will continue to take action to ensure that cleaning contractors respect the right to organize, and to ensure that all retail janitors have fair wages, fair working conditions and a voice in the workplace.

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It is the leadership of workers, combined with the solidarity of community allies, that has brought us to this point…let’s keep the movement growing!

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CTUL VIVE…LA LUCHA SIGUE!!

More pictures:

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Lucas Benitez from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and Claudia Saenz from the Student / Farmworker Alliance

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Maria Isa

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I Self Devine

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Comunidad Jaranera de los Twin Cities

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Updates and pictures from Day 2 of the strike.