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Janitor walkout could affect some of the Twin Cities’ most prominent workplaces

The janitors’ union is fighting for a $15 minimum wage and workload limitations.

The strike will begin at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at 1 p.m., according to union officials.

Starting today, thousands of metro area janitors will walk off the job for 24 hours after a weekend deadline passed without a new contract agreement. 

Union janitors with the Services Employees International Union Local 26 (SEIU) will set up picket lines at several areas around the metro today through Thursday after the union — which represents 4,000 local janitors — failed to reach an agreement with the Minneapolis-St. Paul Contract Cleaners Association, which represents local cleaning companies.

The strike will begin at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at 1 p.m., according to union officials, though the aim is to affect sites throughout the Twin Cities over the course of the day.

According to the union, workers contracted to clean nearly 200 buildings will go on strike, including those who work at some of the Twin Cities’ most prominent workplaces: United Health Group, Medtronic, U.S. Bank Plaza, U.S. Bank Corporate, Wells Fargo Tower, Oracle, AT&T, Ameriprise, IDS, Normandale Office Complex, Baker, Securian, and 3M, among others.

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The union says it will picket various places throughout the metro: in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Eden Prairie, Fridley and Richfield, culminating with a community rally at U.S. Bank Plaza in downtown Minneapolis at 7 p.m. 

The union janitors, who clean commercial buildings throughout the Twin Cities, have been negotiating with their employers since October. Their three-year contract expired on Dec. 31.

SEIU executive board member Brahim Kone said the union gave the Cleaners Association until Sunday to meet their terms of $15 an hour wages, additional paid sick days and clearly defined workload limits. But after 11 bargaining sessions and no deal, they’ve decided to up the ante. “We’re trying to put some pressure on them,” Kone said, referring to the cleaning companies. “These are places with big buildings that will cause attention [when we strike].”

Since October, union members and their employers have been unable to reach an agreement on any fronts, Kone said. Currently, full-time janitors with the union make $14.62 an hour, he said, and part-time cleaners make between $11 and $13. The union wants $15 an hour across the board.

John Nesse, with the Minneapolis-St. Paul Contract Cleaners Association, which represents the employers, said the association did offer to raise full-time employees’ wages to above $15 an hour by the end of the contract term.

But the SEIU rejected that offer. “We’re trying to get to $15 now,” Kone said. “They’re trying to get to $15 in three years, and we also want to include the part-timers.”

But the biggest hurdle is still defining workload limitations. Many of their janitors are being required to work an unreasonable amount in one work day, Kone said, and some having to clean up to four floors a day of buildings that can stretch a full commercial block. Currently, the language in the contract doesn’t clearly define what constitutes an unreasonable amount of work, Kone said, and the union wants to change that.

Nesse said the association wouldn’t comment on any more specifics of the contract, but that he believes both parties are working hard to reach a fair deal, and that the association looks forward to their next bargaining session scheduled for Feb. 22. “The employers respect the union’s right to strike,” he said.

After today’s strike, the union will decide where to move next, Kone said. “We’re going to keep on negotiating,” he said.