Window cleaners seek union representation


Workers who hang from skyscrapers, cleaning windows on some of the area’s largest and tallest buildings, are seeking union representation. Employees at MGS Professional Building Maintenance on Tuesday presented owner Michael Sweat with cards showing that a majority of the company’s workforce want to be represented by Service Employees International Union Local 26.

Sweat rejected their request, but said he would meet with workers at a yet-to-be-determined date, said Eric Salmonen, a window cleaner helping in the organizing effort.

SEIU Local 26 Program Director Greg Nammacher and workers at MGS present owner Michael Sweat with cards showing a majority of workers want a union.

“We marched right into his shop, up to his desk,” said Salmonen. “Going into this meeting, we had union cards signed by seven of 13 (MGS employees). As we were leaving, another guy signed on.”

Window cleaners are a small but significant part of Local 26, which represents primarily janitors and security guards, Salmonen said. He works at MSI, a unionized window cleaning company that employs about the same number of workers as MGS.

The two largest window cleaning companies in the Twin Cities – Columbia Building Services, Inc., and Marsden Building Maintenance – are also unionized. But many smaller companies, such as Minneapolis-based MGS, are not.

“They have guys doing the exact kind of high rise, rappelling work as we do, but they’re getting $10 or $12 dollars an hour,” Salmonen said. “We’re around $20 with the union. And they have no medical whatsoever there, no retirement, no anything.”

Another issue in the organizing is safety, he said. While union window cleaners go through a two-year apprenticeship program, non-union companies often send workers up on tall buildings with little training.

MGS cleans windows at many private and public buildings in the Twin Cities, including the College of St. Catherine, Court International and Kellogg Square in St. Paul, and Butler Square, Hilton Hotel, Mill City Museum, Federal Courthouse and University of Minnesota parking ramps in Minneapolis.

The window cleaners want Sweat to voluntarily recognize their union based on the fact that the majority of workers have signed cards, rather than go through a lengthy National Labor Relations Board election process, Salmonen said.

The workers will follow up Tuesday’s action to make sure Sweat meets with them, he said, and “we want to make sure it’s a meeting at a time that his employees can all attend.”