By Lindsey Seavert, WCCO-TV
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Protestors say their peaceful demonstration turned to chaos inside a Minneapolis grocery store Tuesday night, but Cub Foods calls it blatant trespassing on private property.
Protesters affiliated with the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, or the CTUL workers rights organization, say they went inside the Cub Foods near 26th and Lake Street last night as part of an ongoing campaign to fight the treatment of grocery store cleaning workers, who they say deserve better wages and working conditions. The group has been protesting this issue for the past year.
On Tuesday night, protesters say they say they started with a skit inside the store about how a store cleaning worker at a Bloomington Cub Foods was recently fired for speaking out about low wages.
A video taken by protesters shows a security guard approach a protestor, grab his arms, and tackle him to the ground. Protestors screamed for the security guard to back off, and the security responded by holding out handcuffs, threatening to arrest all the protestors present.
"All of the sudden the gentlemen turned his back to the security officer, it happened that fast," said protestor and witness Todd Dahlstrom. "He grabbed him by the neck and drove him into the floor."
The protestors say they tried to leave, but the store blocked the doors, and the security guard sprayed the crowd with pepper spray.
"The security sprayed me with pepper spray directly in my eye probably less than a foot away, and I went to the hospital to get my eyes flushed," said protester Kristen Melby.
Cub Foods isn't directly commenting on this incident because it is currently under investigation, according to spokesperson Mike Siemienas. Siemienas says the store protests are disruptive, and protestors are increasingly aggressive and endangering customers' safety. He says on March 11, the company issued the CTUL group a formal trespass notice, banning protestors from stores.
"There is another face to this company, workers cleaning in their stories are making poverty wages and aren't getting any benefits," said former cleaning worker Mario Colloly.
Colloly says he cleaned a Bloomington Cub Foods for three years, but was let go for trying to organize workers. Cub Foods uses a third party to clean the stores, Carlson Building Maintenance, who says that is false.
Carlson spokesperson Amy Rotenberg says the workers have the right to "lawfully and fairly make public their views about their working conditions," but in this case, "the termination of the employee was for lawful reasons related to his conduct on the job, and had nothing whatsoever to do with his protected activities or his association with CTUL."
Carlson also says it pays competitive wages based on the market conditions.
"Our wages range from exceeding minimum wage to $20+ per hour, depending on experience, performance, responsibility and/or training. During these many months of economic downturn, when countless companies in all sorts of industries have laid off many thousands of employees, Carlson Building Maintenance has proudly maintained its workforce and provided its employees with steady full-time hours and stable employment," said Rotenberg.
Protesters say the investigation should focus on an invisible workforce under attack.
"This an extension of what is going on in this country, workers' rights are being attacked," said Dahlstrom.
"The workers food on the shelves and keep our stores clean, they are family members, fathers, mothers and neighbor, and we all live better if everyone is treated well," said protester Kristen Melby.
Cub Foods states that Minneapolis Police cited some protestors for trespassing. Minneapolis Police records show a store customer alleges the protestor that was tackled hit her on the mouth during the incident. She asked to press charges for assault. Store security told police that the tackled protestor was also trespassing.
On Thursday morning at 11 a.m., protesters will continue to voice their concerns at another demonstration at the Cub Foods Store at 5937 Nicollet Ave South in Minneapolis.
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