More than 6,000 Twin Cities janitors and security officers are pressing forward on negotiations to ensure living wages and better health care for their families.Members of Service Employees International Union Local 26 clean and protect some of the Twin Cities’ largest office buildings that house some of the wealthiest corporations in the country. Their contracts expired Dec. 31, but after more than a month of negotiations, employers have yet to advance any sort of economic proposal to address wages and health care benefits, the union said.
“They haven’t been willing to address a single issue we’ve put forward,” said Fred Anthony II, a security officer and member of Local 26. “We come to the table ready to negotiate, and each time, they give us the runaround.”
For the first time ever, more than 6,000 janitors and security officers in the Twin Cities and suburbs are negotiating new contracts simultaneously. In 2008, a new contract was negotiated for 1,000 security officers after they struck in downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. In 2006 and 2009, janitors voted to authorize strikes, but both were narrowly averted. At this point, there has been no strike vote.
Negotiations resumed Thursday and will continue over the next two weeks, the union said.
“I’ve worked for American Security in downtown St. Paul for 13 years,” said Anthony. “For the first five years, we weren’t part of SEIU Local 26. I worked three jobs, could barely pay my bills and struggled to make ends meets. Over the past eight years as a member of Local 26, I’ve seen consistent pay raises, bought a house, gotten married, and started a family – I’ve gotten a taste of what the middle class is about, and I don’t want to move backward. The proposals from the employers would lock us out of the middle class and back into poverty.”
The average worker in Local 26 brings in $22,800 a year; the lowest paid makes roughly $17,160 a year. The federal poverty line for a family of four is $23,050. In a survey, 89% of members said they would use a raise to pay for basic necessities, including groceries, school, rent or mortgage.
“The only proposals from employers so far have been the same things we’re seeing all across the country – attempts to cut jobs and reduce wages,” said Javier Morillo, president of SEIU Local 26. “With income inequality at historic highs, these workers deserve a chance for a better future – instead, those hardest hit by the recession are being asked to make concessions to those who were barely hit at all.”