Twin Cities janitors declare victory in campaign for ‘good jobs, green future’

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Several major cleaning companies and the union representing more than 4,000 Twin Cities janitors reached a contract settlement Sunday – narrowly avoiding a strike. The tentative agreement supports the use of environmentally friendly cleaning products and transitions to day shift cleaning, the union said.


Service Employees International Union Local 26 announced the tentative agreement at a news conference Monday in Minneapolis City Hall that also was attended by supporters including Congressman Keith Ellison.


Janitors who clean the majority of commercial buildings in the Twin Cities had been prepared to walk off the job at 4 a.m. Monday. 


“Because of that commitment to put it all on the line, we were able to reach a settlement with our employers,” said Local 26 President Javier Morillo-Alicea. He said the tentative agreement was reached in the early hours of Sunday morning after a marathon bargaining session of some 26 hours with the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Contract Cleaners Association – including ABM, FBG, Harvard, Mid-City, and Triangle.


Earlier, progress had been announced in separate negotiations with Marsden.


Janitors also won improved health insurance and secure full-time work, the union said.


Over the course of the three-year contract, all Twin Cities janitors will gain access to one common health insurance plan with better benefit levels for both single and family coverage, while maintaining affordable premiums.  Previously the quality of benefit was low, and this new contract provides a major step forward in reducing out-of-pocket costs, the union said.


Full-time jobs also were important to janitors who have sometimes seen their jobs or hours cut when buildings change cleaning contractors. In the new pact, janitors won the right to eight-hour, full-time jobs by 2012 and job security when buildings choose to switch cleaning companies. Full-time janitors who have had their hours cut could see their income rise by as much as 38 percent by Jan. 1, 2012, the union said.


The agreement marks a victory for the union in its “Good Jobs, Green Future” campaign and will benefit both workers and the community at large, the union said.


“Our new contract will make our jobs green jobs,” said Blanca Pineda, a janitor in Roseville who had lost her sense of smell from the chemicals she had to use at work. “We will use green cleaning products that will be safer for me, and safer for the people in my building. And when buildings choose to switch to day shift cleaning, we will have the time and training to make it successful.”


Congressman Ellison recalled speaking at the contract campaign’s kick-off event in December and at the janitors’ Jan. 30 strike vote. “Knowing the inherent risk, you all said we’re not backing down… This contract demonstrates that when we stick together… the right outcome will come out,” he told the workers.


 “Twin Cities janitors work hard every day not only to ensure that our offices are clean, but that their families join our city’s strong middle class and claim their share of the American dream,” Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said in a written statement. “And the more they succeed in that, the more they give back to our community – and that’s good for everyone. I congratulate the members of Local 26 and our city’s business leaders for coming together to make sure that Minneapolis keeps working for everyone.”