UPDATED 11/22/2010—”I was fired for standing up for my rights,” Patricia Gil, who used to work cleaning a Lunds & Byerly’s grocery store, said through a translator.
The Center of Workers United in Struggle/Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) led a march through Uptown and South Minneapolis November 6 to protest human rights violations received by employees of cleaning companies that have contracts with SuperValu, Cub Foods, Lunds & Byerly’s, and Target stores.
According to Veronica Mendez of CTUL, “Cleaning companies have been ordered to pay thousands of dollars in back wages for unpaid overtime by either the U.S. Department of Labor or federal courts. For example, Prestige Maintenance, which cleans Target, was ordered by federal court in Maryland to pay $3.8 million in back wages.”
CTUL also charged that the cleaning companies lowered wages from between $10 and $11 per hour to between $7.25 and $8 per hour over the last ten years despite a nearly doubled workload. The march was part of CTUL’s Justice in Retail Cleaning campaign.
Retail chains’ contracting practices create “…an incredibly competitive environment in which dozens of cleaning companies constantly underbid each other to gain contracts, leading to a race to the bottom in wages and working conditions,” according to CTUL.
“They gave me more and more work to do everyday,” Gil said through translation. “I told them no, that wasn’t my job.”
Carlson Cleaning, the company contracted to provide cleaners for SuperValu and Cub Foods, eliminated previously offered benefits like paid vacations, and has charged workers for uniforms, nametags, and paychecks they did not receive by mail, according to CTUL.
National Maintenance and Paquette Maintenance are commonly contracted by Lunds & Byerly’s stores, and Prestige Maintenance is commonly contracted by Target stores. The CTUL website has links to newspaper articles and government documents showing prior investigations of all three companies for various violations of worker rights, including unpaid overtime and unpaid wages.
|Day of Action in Solidarity with Retail Cleaning Workers
On November 24, Justice in Retail Cleaning advocates will ask Cub Foods customers what they think of the human rights violations endured by the store’s cleaning workers. Liz Loeb of Workers Interfaith Network, at email@example.com, and CTUL’s website can also provide more information about the Day of Action.
“It’s ironic that Lunds has such expensive food, and would give such low wages,” Gil said.
After the march, CTUL announced it will focus the Justice in Retail Cleaning Campaign’s future efforts on SuperValu, which owns Cub Foods stores. CTUL will seek collaboration between SuperValu management and cleaning workers, pressing the retail chain to help end unfair wages and working conditions.
More than 200 marched with “caution wet floor”-shaped signs, banging pots and pans, and chanting slogans such as “Sí se puede (yes we can),” and call and responses including “What do we want?/Justice!, When do we want it?/Now!” in Spanish and English.
The group rallied outside Lunds & Byerly’s at 1450 West Lake St., Target and Cub Foods at 26th and Lake Streets, and SuperValu at 30 West Lake St. At each location, a worker spoke about injustices he or she had experienced firsthand. The crowd chanted and cheered, provoking honks from cars and curious gazes from onlookers. CTUL tried to deliver a letter to Lunds & Byerly’s requesting a meeting between cleaning workers and the store’s management.
“When we tried to turn in the letter, they ignored us,” said Brian Payne, a leading CTUL staff member. Marchers booed in response.
“He wouldn’t even open his mouth and ran away…they’re scared of us,” announced another CTUL representative of the Lunds employees they attempted to deliver the letter to.
CTUL members, workers, their family members and friends, and students were among those who marched. Oscar Otzoy came from Florida, where he advocates workers’ rights primarily for agricultural workers, “to be in solidarity,” he said through a translator.
“It’s the same in Florida companies,” Otzoy said. “Companies exploit workers to the point of slavery.”
After the two-hour march, participants gathered in the basement of Holy Trinity Church, at 2730 E. 31st St., to enjoy food and beverages. City Council Members Betsy Hodges and Elizabeth Glidden (of wards 13 and 8, respectively) spoke in support of CTUL’s mission, as did David Wangaard of the Minneapolis Synod of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
“What you’re asking for is right,” Glidden said. “And we need to make the companies understand that.”
CTUL distributed postcards addressed to SuperValu demanding a meeting “to establish a code of conduct guaranteeing fair wages, fair working conditions, and a voice in the workplace for workers” for supporters to sign and mail.
CORRECTION 11/22/2010: According to Veronica Mendez of CTUL, “Cleaning companies have been ordered to pay thousands of dollars in back wages for unpaid overtime by either the U.S. Department of Labor or federal courts. For example, Prestige Maintenance, which cleans Target, was ordered by federal court in Maryland to pay $3.8 million in back wages.”