As local farmers sold produce at sidewalk stands and office workers fanned themselves in the sunshine, mariachi music wafted through downtown Minneapolis Thursday, amid a sea of purple signs. Chants punctuated the air: “Si se puede!” and “Justice for Janitors!”
More than 200 members of Service Employees International Union Local 26 and supporters marched from the Hennepin County Government Center down the length of the Nicollet Mall to commemorate “Justice for Janitors Day” and to call for a fair contract as they begin negotiations.
“All these buildings are cleaned by our members,” said Local 26 President Javier Morillo-Alicea, pointing to the downtown Minneapolis skyscrapers. “We are here today in celebration and to say as well we are kicking off our 2006 contract campaign.”
Formed in Denver in 1985, Justice for Janitors is in its 20th year. Over the years, Justice for Janitors has worked to provide better wages, basic benefits, and job security for janitors who clean buildings in major cities and suburbs.
Justice for Janitors Day was established after janitors in Los Angeles were beaten by police during a peaceful demonstration against the cleaning contractor ISS, on June 15, 1990. In memory of those workers, participants in the Minneapolis march carried red roses.
They handed out fliers to downtown workers and talked to people along the route. They also sang along to a mariachi band that played throughout the march.
In all, Local 26 represents 4,500 workers who clean buildings in downtown Minneapolis, downtown St. Paul, several suburbs and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
The theme of the contract campaign is “Working for the American Dream.” Morillo-Alicea said many of the janitors are immigrants, who “want to work, make a living wage and live our American dream.”
At a rally before the march, Minneapolis City Council member Ralph Remington read a proclamation by Mayor R.T. Rybak declaring Thursday “Justice for Janitors Day” in Minneapolis.
Patricia Torres Rey, labor-endorsed candidate for the state Senate from Minneapolis, said everyone has a stake in defending the rights of workers.
“We have to be united,” she told the crowd, speaking in English and Spanish. “We have to work together. We have to support each other.”
Nationally, SEIU represents more than 225,000 janitors.