STRIKE FOR OUR LIVES / HUELGA POR NUESTRAS VIDAS
Retail Janitors Set Black Friday Strike Deadline
We are fighting to live, not just survive! / Estamos luchando para vivir, no solo sobrevivir!
With the busy holiday season’s kickoff just weeks away, janitors who work for contracted companies cleaning Home Depot, Best Buy, Kohl’s, Sears and other stores announced a Black Friday Strike Deadline. Over 100 workers and community allies braved the first snow of the season for the announcement.
In June 2014, after a series of meetings with CTUL and workers, Target Corporation created a Responsible Contractor Policy that ensures that companies contracted to clean Target stores will open dialogue with workers to improve working standards in the industry. Janitors bring a series of concerns about working conditions in retail cleaning, including sub-poverty wages, wage theft, unsafe working conditions, and more. Since the announcement, the two companies that clean Target stores and a third company that cleans other stores in the Twin Cities have all opened dialogue, yet they have not seemed to take workers’ concerns seriously. Other cleaning companies have refused to talk at all.
Maricela Flores, retail janitor and CTUL member: “It is time for all of the cleaning contractors to partner with workers to raise standards across the industry. While we are hopeful about ongoing dialogue with some cleaning companies, we want to be clear that words alone don’t put food on our plates. We will no longer sit back quietly as cleaning companies steal years off of our lives and the lives of our families by paying poverty wages. On Black Friday, we will ‘Strike for Our Lives’ against all of the cleaning companies that refuse to respect our right to organize without fear of retaliation.”
In announcing the strike deadline, workers pointed to the Minnesota Department of Health’s “White Paper on Income and Health” published in March 2014. According to the report, “Minnesotans who live in Twin Cities zip codes with the highest median household income live an average of 8 years longer than those who live in zip codes with the lowest median household income.” Before the announcement, janitors led a presentation about how wages and working conditions in retail cleaning impact workers and their families at the Healthy Heartlands Summit, a collaboration of public health and community organizers working for health equity across the Midwest.
Richard Hofricter, Senior Director, National Association of City and Country Health Officials: “Public health research overwhelmingly demonstrates exposure to hazardous conditions, hazardous agents or work products, and stress, lack of job security, absence of health benefits, lack of dignity at work, and limited workplace participation all damage health. We have a role as public health professionals address these issues.”
Organizations released a report at the Summit titled “NO SALE, The Retail Industry’s Failure to Address Health Equity”, documenting the role that big box retail stores play as employers in determining the health and well-being of workers and their families. Following the Summit, retail janitors and health advocates from the Healthy Heartlands Summit announced the Black Friday strike deadline.
Grant Stevenson of ISAIAH, a faith-based coalition of more than 100 member congregations that lets communities in Minnesota more effectively live out their faith in biblical justice and the common good: “Why would the churches be standing with CTUL at this moment? Because we at our best have always stood on the side of life and of health. What is at stake here is the very health of our communities.”
Antonio Villarreal, retail janitor and CTUL member: “Target has committed to be a leader in ensuring the health of janitors who clean its stores, but Target’s contractors are still not taking us seriously. While we are still in dialogue with the cleaning companies, we worry that they are not ready to come to an agreement. Our lives and our families’ lives depend on whether these companies come to an agreement with us so we can have wages and working conditions that allow us to live long and healthy lives. We can’t keep waiting forever, until they decide that our lives are important enough. So today, we are announcing a deadline for the companies. If by Thanksgiving they don’t come to an agreement, we will ‘Strike for Our Lives’ on Black Friday.”
Early Press Coverage: “Twin Cities retail janitors threaten to Strike on Black Friday,” Adam Belz, 11/11/14, Star Tribune.