RETAIL JANITORS DECLARE
Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL) has just won a huge victory with sub-contracted janitors who clean retail stores in the Twin Cities metro area. After four years of organizing including leading three strikes against cleaning companies in 2013, and a year of dialogue between Target Corporation, CTUL and retail janitors, Target is adopting a breakthrough Responsible Contractor Policy that will be implemented for new cleaning contracts at their stores. The policy is the first of its kind nationally in the industry.
Over the past four years, retail janitors in the Twin Cities have been organizing with CTUL for fair wages, fair working conditions, and a voice in the workplace. After leading a series of powerful actions, including a three-mile march, a 12 day hunger strike, and three strikes in 2013 (include link), workers have won some important changes, including:
- Winning the first raises in the industry after over a decade of declining wages, from an average of around $7.25/hour to $8.50/hour. We estimate that the raises lead to around $1.5 million per year in additional income invested directly into the poorest communities in the Twin Cities metro area.
- Essentially ending wage theft in an industry where it once was rampant.
- Gaining significant health and safety improvements across the industry.
While these changes are important, workers are still paid sub-poverty wages and have faced retaliation for their organizing efforts. Even more, these conditions have dire consequences for the health of the broader community. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recently published an alarming report about the connections between poverty and quality of health in our communities. According to the report, Minnesotans who live in areas with the highest median household income live an average of 8 years longer than Minnesotans who live in areas with the lowest median household income. This led to the dire conclusion by the MDH that, “The growing economic inequities and the persistence of health disparities in our great state are a matter of life and death for many.”
In essence, cleaning companies have been stealing years off of workers’ lives and off of the lives of workers’ children by paying sub-poverty wages. Now CTUL has won a huge breakthrough in the campaign, as Target Corporation is adopting new language in a new Responsible Contractor Policy that will be instituted with janitorial companies that are contracted to clean their stores beginning in September 2014. Target has committed in a public letter to implement this policy with new cleaning contractors, which includes:
- Protecting and ensuring workers’ rights to collectively bargain with their employers;
- Ensuring that workers have the right to form safety committees made up of at least 50% workers who are designated by their co-workers, and the right to have an organization of their choice to support them in committee meetings; and
- Ensuring that workers are not forced to work seven days a week.
This is a truly an unprecedented and formerly considered impossible historic victory that has implications for many more than the estimated 1,000 retail janitors in the Twin Cities. We live in an economy of increasingly contingent work – work that is subcontracted and/or temporary. As a result, bargaining power, wages and work conditions all spiral down, and the future of work becomes increasingly precarious.
This trend is quite apparent in retail janitorial work. Large retail store chains pit dozens of cleaning companies against each other in an incredibly competitive bidding environment in order to gain contracts to clean their stores. Many cleaning companies seek the competitive edge on the backs of their workers. Over the past fifteen years, wages have dropped by several dollars an hour while workload has nearly doubled. During this same time, there have been dozens of federal lawsuits and United States Department of Labor investigations involving millions of dollars in unpaid wages in retail cleaning around the country. Industry leaders estimate that the annual employee turnover rate in retail janitorial work is 300%.
As the largest retailer in the Twin Cities metro area, Target’s leadership role in establishing a new Responsible Contractor Policy is an important first step to reverse this disturbing trend. CTUL is now calling on every other large retail stores to follow Target’s leadership by adopting the same Responsible Contractor Policy.
There is still a lot of work to be done to, and we invite our allies to stand with workers as the struggle moves forward to:
- Implement the changes that have been won to ensure that retail janitors achieve the ultimate goal of fair wages, fair working conditions, and a voice in the workplace.
- Learn and build on this victory to develop campaigns in other areas of contingent labor to ensure that low-wage workers have a place at the table in deciding the future of work.
Join us in celebrating this tremendous and unprecedented victory, and in calling on other large retail stores to follow Target’s leadership!