As many union janitors are losing their jobs due to I-9 audits, non-union janitors who clean retail stores such as Lunds & Byerly’s, Cub Foods, and Target, are seeing lower wages and worse working conditions. These stores do not hire janitors directly, but contract with cleaning companies. The Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), an organization that works toward fair wages and fair working conditions, has been leading a campaign against Lunds & Byerly’s, SuperValu (parent company of Cub Foods), and Target to take responsibility for the wages and working conditions of people hired to clean their stores by the cleaning businesses they contract with.
For more on immigrant janitors, see Immigrant janitors: “The system is broken”
Brian Payne, an organizer with CTUL, said that in the past ten years, wages have gone down from $10-11 an hour to minimum wage and the workload has nearly doubled. The cleaning companies are in strong competition with each other, he said, which has driven down labor costs.
Mario Colloli-Torres has for the past year been organizing with CTUL as well as working at Cub Foods through the Carlson Building Maintenance company. Colloli-Torres said he felt it was necessary to stand up and start talking about the working conditions and wages. Not only have the wages dropped, he said through a translator, but a store which once was cleaned by four people has now had the cleaning staff cut to two, and workers often don’t have time for a break.
The janitorial industry, Javier Morillo-Alicea said, is “The Ellis Island Industry.” For the past century, it has been a profession filled with immigrants. SEIU was founded by four Polish immigrants in Chicago, when the main labor federations wouldn’t take them. In the last thirty years, the industry has been dominated by Latino immigrants, and largely by people without work authorization. In recent years, there has been a growing number of East African workers in the industry as well, Morillo-Alicea said.
Though CTUL has organized marches and 200 members signed petitions demanding better treatment, “the only thing they are interested in is saving money when they are negotiating with cleaning companies,” Colloli-Torres said.
Recently, Colloli was fired from Calrson Building Maintenance. He was told that it was because he was asleep on the job, and was shown a picture of himself asleep. However, he says that the picture was taken of him while he was on his break, and he was fired not because of that but because he is a leader in organizing efforts. “They think they can make it go away by firing leaders,” he said. “It seems if you are a leader trying to get better working conditions, you get fired,” he said.
Another janitor, Jesus Costillo, worked for National Maintenance Cleaning, which was the company contracted to clean Lunds and Byerly’s. He worked for the company for three years until Lunds and Byerly’s switched companies to Carlson Building Maintenance. When Costillo began cleaning the stores, four workers would clean a store on one shift. That got reduced to three people, and now that Carlson has the contract, only two people clean the store in one shift. Additionally, Costillo said, workers are forced to work with chemicals with no protection.
Carlson Mangement did not respond to repeated telephone and email requests for information.