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Thousands of janitors begin three-day strike across Twin Cities, MSP Airport

Thousands of Twin Cities essential workers start 3-day strike
Thousands of Twin Cities essential workers start 3-day strike 02:41

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Thousands of Twin Cities essential workers took to the picket line Monday after months of unsuccessful bargaining.

Over 4,000 janitors with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 26 began a three-day strike at 6 a.m. outside the Ameriprise headquarters in downtown Minneapolis. The union says the workers intend to strike at over 100 buildings across the metro this week and at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

"Our two biggest issues are wage increases and getting an employer-paid retirement for the first time," said Greg Nammacher, president of SEIU Local 26.

SEIU's janitorial sector bargaining unit voted in early February to approve an unfair labor practices strike on behalf of its 8,000 members. 

Since then, SEIU was able to reach an agreement late last week for about 500 of their members who clean big box stores including Target, Best Buy and Cub Foods. The union also reached a deal for their 2,000 security guards that included higher wages and retirement benefits.

However, commercial janitors have yet to reach a deal. A final "marathon" bargaining session was held last Friday and went late into the evening, but no deal was reached. 

RELATED: Thousands of Twin Cities essential workers prepare for possible strike

Nammacher says they want to remind the public and their employers they were among the essential workers who had to report to work during the early days of the pandemic, during which six of their members died.

"This is the first time that we've been at the bargaining table since then. There's been 17% inflation since then," Nammacher said.

The majority of janitors are immigrants and people of color who average $18 an hour. Ava Lopez, a janitor and the union's vice president, says that is not enough for her and her two children.

"It's so hard to live with $18 because the rent is so high, the groceries is so high and we have a lot of things to pay, and $18 is not enough," Lopez said.

As of Sunday, every member of the St. Paul City Council and most of the Minneapolis City Council expressed their support for the union. Other unions have offered "strike sanctions" in support as well, meaning they will not cross the picket line so long as their contract allows.

The next scheduled bargaining session is this Friday.

WCCO reached out to some of the subcontractors who are the employers of these janitorial workers and have yet to hear back from most of them. Ameriprise declined to comment.

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