Press Release Feb. 28, 2013

Sen. Torres Ray, Rep. Mariani Announce Legislation to Protect Underpaid Workers, Help Expand Middle Class

Compelled to take action by personal stories of poor working conditions suffered by janitors who clean Target retail stores here in the Twin Cities, State Senator Patricia Torres Ray and State Representative Carlos Marini introduced legislation today designed to protect tens of thousands of underpaid workers and help expand Minnesota’s middle class. This proposal comes just two days after a one-day strike led by retail janitors.

“I’m deeply concerned by ongoing reports of low wages, overwhelming workloads, and wage theft,” said Rep. Mariani. “Workers who are contracted to clean retail stores deserve respect, dignity, and fair wages for a hard day’s work. I’m proud to stand with members of CTUL today to announce this bill to help level the playing field for Minnesota workers.”

“Every day workers are sacrificing to provide for their families, and often they do not have enough time to spend with their children to watch them grow up, or to invest in the well-being of the communities around them,” said Sen. Torres Ray. “For workers to sacrifice so much, and then sometimes not even receive their full wage is unacceptable.”

In recent years Minnesota has seen an explosion of low-wage, dead end jobs that have slammed closed the doors of opportunity for many hardworking Minnesotans. As more companies contract out work such as cleaning, the race to the bottom in wages and workload expands. Large retail chains leverage their size to pit dozens of cleaning companies against each other, establishing an industry that is so competitive that sometimes companies cut corners by violating the law.

This legislation will protect the tens of thousands of janitors, security officers, and window cleaners in our state who do not already have the protection of a labor union. The legislation will protect workers by establishing penalties for subcontractors and the company that hires them when the bid for a contract is set so low that contractors cannot comply with state law.

An example of why this legislation is needed occurred Monday in the Twin Cities when non-union janitors employed by Diversified Maintenance Systems, Carlson Building Maintenance and Eurest Services to clean Target and other stores went on strike over alleged unfair labor practices. The workers are paid around $8.50 per hour. Retail janitors have alleged that: they had to work seven nights a week without a day off, they worked up to 80 hours per week without receiving their full overtime pay, they are locked in the store during their shift, and that when they speak out to change their working conditions, they are retaliated against.

In response to the strike, Target made the following statement, “Target contracts with regional vendors to provide housekeeping services for all our stores and, as such, we do not employ the individuals involved in today’s events. At Target, we are committed to maintaining the highest standards of ethical business practices and we expect our vendors to do the same.”

Target’s response outraged many community members who noted that while it is true that Target does not employ the janitors directly, the janitors clean and scrub Target’s stores every day. They are among the workers who have provided billions in profits over the years and made Target’s CEO one of the wealthiest and most powerful people in Minnesota. Target recorded nearly $3 billion in profit in 2011 and Target’s CEO is paid around $20 million a year, or $9600 an hour, more than 1100 times what the janitors are paid.

“I worked at Diversified Maintenance System cleaning a Target store in the Twin Cities,” says former janitor Honorio Hernandez. “We had to work seven days, 56-80 hours per week, without receiving our full overtime pay.”