Thursday, 18 February 2016

Janitors/Window Cleaners Protest Brings Minneapolis To A Halt

Protesters supporting janitors, 2,000 security officers & window cleaners seeking higher pay and more sick time took to the streets, blocking downtown streets and causing massive traffic jams, Thursday, February 18, 2016 in Minneapolis, MN. 
Morning rush hour snarled as protesters block downtown Minneapolis streets - The protesters are from a group supporting janitors engaged in a one-day strike during contract talks. 

Protesters supporting janitors seeking higher pay and more sick time took to the streets Thursday morning, blocking downtown streets at the peak of the morning rush hour, which caused massive traffic jams on I-94 and I-35W in Minneapolis. Marchers, carrying banners to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, took over 12th and 11th Streets and the area of 3rd Avenue to 5th Avenue S., Minneapolis Police spokesman John Elder confirmed. At the 5th Avenue exit off I-35W, some protesters played music as they choked off all cars from entering downtown.

Traffic heading into downtown was at a standstill for nearly an hour, and the State Patrol shut down major entry points. Exits from northbound I-35W to 5th Avenue and westbound 94 to 5th Avenue were closed around 8:15 a.m. They reopened 30 minutes later as marchers made their way along city streets to the area of 8th Street and Nicollet Mall, according to scanner reports.

Major backups as long as 3 miles were reported on northbound I-35W, Minnesota Department of Transportation cameras showed. Highway traffic returned to normal around 9 a.m. and downtown traffic soon after that. Still, the protests angered some commuters. “Making me late for work isn’t going to make me feel sympathetic to your cause,” a disgruntled commuter tweeted. Some Metro Transit buses were being diverted, too.

Twin Cities janitors staged a one-day strike Wednesday in an effort to improve working conditions, including higher wages and more paid sick days. Protesters supporting a $15 minimum wage blocked I-35 traffic from entering downtown Thursday morning.

Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (or The Center of Workers United in Struggle) said non-unionized workers for Capital Building Services Group and three other cleaning companies joined the strike of unionized janitors led by the Service Employees International Union Wednesday night. The CTUL organized a 6 a.m. rally of nonunion workers near the downtown Macy’s before moving to the freeway ramp with the other groups around 7 a.m. CTUL said it was trying to call attention to pay and wage theft issues faced by nonunion janitors. “We are here to disrupt business as usual” said Stephanie Gasca, an organizer for CTUL. She said stopping traffic and hitting the streets was the best way to get their message heard.

Hilario De Leon Perez, a cleaning worker in Minneapolis, said he is here to support a minimum-wage increase to $15 dollars an hour, as well as paid sick leave, vacation days and holidays. “Me and the other workers want the rich and powerful to hear us because we want this change and need this change,” he said. CTUL on Tuesday publicized a $425,000 settlement that it reached with Capital Building Services Group, an Illinois-based cleaning service, for back wages to workers at Macy’s and Herberger’s stores in the Twin Cities.

Twin Cities union janitors set to strike Wednesday - A Twin Cities union representing 4,000 janitors is preparing to go on strike Wednesday. A Sunday deadline for a new contract passed, prompting the Service Employees International Union Local 26 to announce members will walk off the job on Wednesday. A rally is being planned at 7:30 that evening at U.S. Bank Plaza in Minneapolis.

The workers are asking for a minimum wage of $15 an hour. They are also seeking a limit on the amount of work they must complete during a normal shift, which they have described as the equivalent of cleaning 20 houses. In addition to the janitors, 2,000 security officers, window cleaners and other workers are represented by the union. The security officers reached a separate contract settlement Thursday. A vote to ratify that agreement is set for Saturday.

Negotiations for the janitors’ contract began in October, to replace a three-year contract that expired Dec. 31. Union members voted in January to authorize a strike, with a deadline of Sunday. A strike would be the first in decades by sub-contracted union janitors in the Twin Cities.

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