Employers lock out window cleaners after workers raise safety questions


When Twin Cities window cleaners asked to see inspection reports about the safety of their work equipment, employers responded by announcing a lockout. 

Video courtesy of SEIU. SEIU held a rally at the Capitol on April 1, and plans a memorial march on April 2.

Three window cleaners have died on the job in the past 2-1/2 years, reported SEIU Local 26, which represents the window cleaners.

“We shouldn’t have to risk our lives just to clean a window,” said Glenn Roehsner, Minneapolis, who has worked 14 years as a window cleaner for Marsden Building Maintenance / Final Touch.

Roehsner was one of a group of about 30 window cleaners who gathered Tuesday outside the IDS Tower in downtown Minneapolis to let the community know about the lockout.

“It’s a dangerous job,” said Dino Crandall, Roseville, who has worked 19 years as a window cleaner, including the past five years for Marsden.

The window cleaners work high off the ground – 20 or 30 stories or more – counting for their lives on ropes secured to davits anchored to the buildings. The ropes and davits both experience wear from use and from exposure to the weather.

“When we finally asked for the inspection reports, they said ‘go home if you don’t want to work,'” Crandall reported.

Marsden and Columbia Building Services announced a lockout Monday at 6 p.m., scheduled to begin that night at midnight.

The companies are currently in negotiations with SEIU Local 26 over a new contract. The workers have been working without a contract for one month. Local 26 represents about 50 window cleaners who clean the windows of Twin Cities high-rises.

“Every year, all the buildings, the davits, the scaffolds we use, the hanging scaffolds, we use, are supposed to be checked by an OSHA certified engineer,” said Derek Eggert, Roseville, who has worked eight years as a window cleaner for Columbia.

When workers asked to see the inspection reports, Crandall said, “they told us ‘just go do it, get it done.'”

The ropes workers use are identified by numbers and are supposed to be in use only two years, Crandall added. “They won’t tell us how old they are.”

Crandall showed a reporter pictures taken with a cell phone. He asked: “Does that look safe to you?”

“Don’t push us to work in unsafe conditions,” Roehsner said.

“If I’m going to be hanging from a 30-story building, I want to know how old is this rope,” said Steve Hall, Columbia Heights, who was worked 16 years for Columbia. “It’s a simple question.”

Instead, Hall reported, “they told me it was ridiculous asking these questions. It was insulting. Our life is on the line. Our life is not ridiculous. If the rope doesn’t hold up, we die.”

Local 26 reported that Marsden and Columbia have announced the lockout will continue until a new contract is signed and that the employers have refused to agree to stronger safety enforcement while demanding wage cuts of 10-28 percent.

SEIU Local 26 is inviting other union members to join picket lines in support of the locked-out window cleaners Wednesday and Thursday morning from 7 to 10 a.m. at the corner of 8th and Nicollet, in downtown Minneapolis.

For more detailed information about the picketing, contact Steve Payne, lead organizer at SEIU Local 26, at 612-325-9401 or spayne@seiu26.org.

Steve Share edits the Labor Review, the official publication of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. Learn more at www.minneapolisunions.org