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Thousands of Twin Cities janitors set to strike over pay, conditions

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Thousands of metro area janitors are set to go on strike this week after employers failed to agree on a new contract with their union.

MPR reports the Services Employees International Union Local 26, representing 4,200 people working for firms contracted to clean Twin Cities office buildings, had given employers until Feb. 14 to improve the terms of a three-year contract for workers.

That deadline has now passed and the Star Tribune reports a strike has been set for this Wednesday, which Local 26 says is the first strike by "sub-contracted union janitors in the Twin Cities in decades."

The workers' previous contract expired on Dec. 31, and union representatives have been fighting for reduced workloads and a $15 an hour minimum wage.

A Minneapolis-St. Paul Contract Cleaners Association representative told MPR that an offer over $15 an hour had already been made, but Local 26 President Javier Morillo says the hourly wage offer remains a sticking point.

Workday Minnesota reported last month that janitor pay and working conditions have been driven down because fewer cleaners are employed directly by buildings anymore, instead they are subcontracted to cleaning companies, who in turn use their own subcontractors.

It says cleaners in 1982 earned the modern equivalent of $15.42 an hour, but the Star Tribune notes full-time janitors currently make $14.62 an hour, with part-time workers earning $11-$13.

Workday says janitorial work now highlights the economic disparities that divide different races in Minnesota, noting janitorial positions have gone from being "good-paying, full-time jobs, held mostly by whites," to "more difficult, lower-paying jobs done primarily by people of color, many of them immigrants."

Morillo told MPR that working conditions is just as big an issue as wages, saying "it didn't make sense simply to talk about wage increases without addressing the very fundamental issue of workload — workloads that are right now literally hurting people's bodies."

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