Janitors’ union reaches agreement

A planned strike could have affected McNamara Alumni Center janitors.

Danielle Nordine

The day before a planned janitorsâÄô strike by members of the Service Employees International Union Local 26, negotiations between the union and contracting companies ended after 26 hours of bargaining. The strike was planned to begin Monday, but the union and the Minneapolis-St. Paul Contract Cleaners Association reached a tentative agreement early Sunday morning. SEIU will vote to finalize the agreement March 6. McNamara Alumni Center contracts its janitorial staff through ABM âÄî one of the companies involved in the negotiations âÄî and would likely have been affected by the strike. Officials from McNamara could not be reached for this story. Contracts between the companies and the union, which is made up of more than 5,000 janitors, security officers and window cleaners in the Twin Cities, expired at the end of December. Proposed contract changes didnâÄôt meet the unionâÄôs requests regarding less expensive health care, green cleaning and retaining full-time employees. âÄúIt seemed like they were trying to go backward,âÄù said Chico Coleman, a member of SEIU Local 26, who was part of the bargaining process. âÄúBut we got our message across, and we finally reached an agreement.âÄù The union wanted the companies to start using more environmentally safe products that would not only be better for the environment but also for the health of the employees, some of which have been injured by the chemicals, Coleman said. The tentative agreement will also give the janitors access to one common health insurance plan that offers both single and family coverage with lower out-of-pocket costs, according to a union press release. Since December, members and supporters of the union have participated in protests and actions throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul to spread their message. A community solidarity committee was formed in December to show support for the unionâÄôs effort. Both the University of Minnesota and local chapters of Socialist Alternative were involved and participated in protests with the union, said Ty Moore, a local staff organizer for the group. âÄúIf weâÄôre going to fight for more equality and keep a check on power of corporations, itâÄôs crucial that we build up our strength and solidarity with one another,âÄù Moore said. Over the past two months, members of the union and the committee have organized protests in the Minneapolis skyways and at U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo, two of the biggest companies that employ SEIU members. Although she originally questioned the effectiveness of such public actions, University junior Sophia Rog said the protests obviously paid off for the union and said she recently got involved with the unionâÄôs effort to raise awareness about its situation. âÄúNow that they got what they needed, I see that this is a really valuable way to get things done,âÄù Rog said. âÄúWe were ready to do more, but itâÄôs good that we donâÄôt have to now.âÄù The involvement of community members and supporters was likely one of the reasons the union and contract companies were able to finally reach an agreement, Coleman said. âÄúI think the threat of the strike and the culmination of all the little things weâÄôve been doing have allowed us to reach our agreement.âÄù