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Local janitors vote to strike if they can't reach a deal with employers


Twin Cities janitors could strike if a contract deal isn't reached by Feb. 14.

Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 26, which represents more than 4,000 janitors, voted Saturday to authorize an "unfair labor practices" strike.

The union says employers continue to "stall and intimidate workers" in bargaining over a new contract, a news release says. Negotiations started back in October and the previous contract expired Dec. 31, 2015.

One of the main things workers are fighting for is a $15 minimum wage, the release says. Currently, some SEIU janitors make as little as $11 an hour.

The union says raising the minimum wage would help address income and racial disparities that plague the state, the release notes.

They are also calling for a fix to a "growing workload crisis" – the union says janitors clean the equivalent of 20 houses per night – and policies to help support healthy families, like increasing the number of paid sick days janitors get.

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, who attended Saturday's vote, spoke to the crowd of about 500 janitors, telling them their demands are "not unreasonable," KARE 11 reports.

“The governor and I support your fight because we know that sometimes you have to fight in order to be treated fairly,” Smith said, according to the release.

With Saturday's vote, union workers agreed they could call a strike "at any point going forward" if an agreement isn't reached by Valentine's Day.

John Nesse, a spokesperson for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Contract Cleaners Association, which is negotiating with the union, told The Associated Press they are hopeful they'll be able to reach an agreement with workers.

Contract negotiations are expected to continue on Friday, reports note.

SEIU Local 26 is the state's property services union and represents more than 6,000 workers, including janitors, security officers and window cleaners, the news release says. The union is also negotiating a new contract for security officers – the next session for that is Feb. 3, Workday Minnesota reports.

But these fights aren't just about getting more money and paid sick time. In a recent story, MinnPost detailed why the janitor contract negotiations "represent an opportunity to confront the continuing rollback of collective bargaining for workers across the state. Read more about that here.

And the Star Tribune has called these contract negotiations a story to watch for in 2016.

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