Janitors who clean Home Depot and other Twin Cities stores are using the upcoming holiday shopping season to put pressure on the big box retailers and the subcontracting companies that employ the janitors to raise their pay. Dozens of janitors are threatening to strike if there is not an agreement to comply with a “Responsible Contractor Policy” like Target Corporation agreed to earlier this year.
The janitors are members of the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL) – The Center of Workers United in Struggle, a low-wage worker-led organization that has been organizing with retail janitors for the past four years.
The stores, which also include Best Buy, Kohl’s, Sears and other retailers, say the janitors’ pay is not their problem — it’s an issue between the janitors and the contractors that hire them.
“You cannot third-party your morality,” Pastor Grant Stevenson told a crowd of CTUL supporters who made the strike threat announcement outside of a Richfield Home Depot. Stevenson is with ISAIAH, a coalition of religious groups that is supporting CTUL and the janitors.
Target Corporation, one of the nation’s biggest retailers, took a stance similar to other retailers until June of this year. After several years of lobbying by janitors, Target changed its hands-off policy to a “Responsible Contractor Policy,” which required the contractors to negotiate with the nonunion janitors over wages and working conditions.
CTUL says the policy change has led to talks between the janitors and some of the contractors. However, CTUL says, those contractors that have started talks are not taking workers’ concerns seriously and other cleaning contractors have refused to talk at all.
“Target has committed to be a leader in ensuring the health of janitors who clean its stores, but Target’s contractors are still not taking us seriously. While we are still in dialogue with the cleaning companies, we worry that they are not ready to come to an agreement,” said Antonio Villarreal, retail janitor and CTUL member.
“Our lives and our families’ lives depend on whether these companies come to an agreement with us so we can have wages and working conditions that allow us to live long and healthy lives. We can’t keep waiting forever, until they decide that our lives are important enough. So today, we are announcing a deadline for the companies. If by Thanksgiving they don’t come to an agreement, we will ‘Strike for Our Lives’ on Black Friday.”
The location(s) for the strike, if it happens, have not yet been announced.