Every morning for the last eleven days, I have woken up stunned by the courage of the retail cleaning workers I have the privilege to work with as an organizer at CTUL.
Today workers and allies entered Day 11 of a Hunger Strike calling on Cub Foods to play a leadership role in the changing the exploitative conditions taking place in retail cleaning by meeting with workers to discuss a code of conduct for fair wages and working conditions for the workers who clean their stores.
For over a year, retail cleaning workers with the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL) have tried to engage representatives of Cub Foods through multiple letters (including signatures from nearly 200 retail cleaning workers), to negotiate over a proposed code of conduct for fair wages and working conditions for workers who have seen their pay go down while their workload has nearly doubled.
Our Campaign for Justice in Retail Cleaning is asking that Cub Foods, as a market leader and well-respected corporation in the community, step forward to end an industry-wide race to the bottom that is generating abuses of economic and human rights.
As one retail cleaning worker put it: “Many years ago at the stores I clean, some workers made up to $11 or $12 an hour. Now the workforce has been reduced, our workload has nearly doubled and many cleaning workers are barely making minimum wage. But it’s not just us, this problem is happening across the industry, to the point where we’ve seen a slavery ring in retail cleaning uncovered in Philadelphia. If we don’t do something to ensure fair wages and working conditions now, then we are heading a hundred miles an hour down a very slippery slope.”
Last March, after Mario Colloly Torres, a leader of the Campaign for Justice in Retail Cleaning was fired from his job at contractor cleaning Cub Foods in Minneapolis, workers and supporters protested at local Cub Foods stores. Non-violent protestors were then attacked by Cub security and they and bystanders, including children, were pepper-sprayed as they tried to leave the store.
Since Saturday May 21st retail cleaning workers and allies have engaged in Hunger Strike that will continue until Cub management agrees to negotiate with members of CTUL. Six people, including the Rev. Grant Stevenson, have not eaten since Saturday, May 21st. Other workers who currently clean stores at night have also joined the hunger strike on a rolling basis. Over the Memorial Day weekend four additional retail cleaning workers and one community supporter joined the fast. (In total 18 people, half of them retail cleaning workers, have taken part in the hunger strike for a number of days.)
Our Memorial Day weekend boycott campaign at the Cub Store on Lake Street and Minnehaha has been a powerful demonstration to Cub Foods that the community backs workers in this struggle, despite attempts by the company to silence the protestors through a frivolous lawsuit.
Meanwhile, support for the hunger strikers continues to grow:
- Rep. Keith Ellison and State Rep. Jim Davine addressed a CTUL rally on Sunday, May 29.
- At the rally, Rep. Ellison called on Cub CEO Keith Wyche to ask him to negotiate with the workers who clean his stores.
- AFSMCE Council 5 is latest organization to join a list of more than two dozen faith, community and labor organizations including the UFCW Local 1189 that have are supporting CTUL’s Campaign for Justice in Retail Cleaning.
- On Friday, May 27th Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution supporting retail cleaning workers
- Minnesota State Representative Patricia Torres-Ray has been with workers since the beginning of the Hunger Strike
- The Star Tribune, FiredogLake, the Pioneer Press, the three main local newspapers and others have covered the hunger strike.
- The front page of Saturday’s Huffington Post featured the story of a Cub Foods cleaner who has turned to food shelves to eat.
CTUL is a workers center – an organization where workers build power to lead the struggle for fair wages, better working conditions, basic respect, and a voice in our workplaces. Like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), CTUL uses worker-led public campaigns to win positive changes in industries where workers struggle to survive, where working conditions have left them unrepresented by traditional labor unions and, often, deprived of even basic legal protections. Over the past three years, CTUL has organized campaigns with low-wage workers to recover over $500,000 in stolen wages including $35,000 for retail cleaning workers. We have also confronted 15 companies to pressure them into changing corporate policies, leading to long-term improvements in the workplace for over 1,100 low-wage workers.
“I’ve worked for many different cleaning companies, cleaning stores in the metro area. Based on my own experience, I know that this is a problem throughout the industry,” said Lucila Dominguez a cleaning worker who formerly cleaned at Cub. Dominguez is on her fourth day of a hunger strike. “This problem will not change until large retail chains like Cub Foods agree to ensure fair wages and working conditions for workers who clean their stores regardless of which contractor they use.”
For more information, see: www.ctul.net