Twin Cities condo workers authorize strike as they seek union recognition

By: - September 27, 2022 4:28 pm

Brahim Kone, secretary treasurer of SEIU Local 26, announced a strike vote by desk attendants and caretakers at Twin Cities condos in downtown Minneapolis on Sept. 27, 2022. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Desk attendants and caretakers at condo buildings across the Twin Cities could go on strike next month in an effort to force their employer, FirstService Residential, to negotiate with them.

Workers on Tuesday announced they voted to authorize a multi-day unfair labor practices strike in October because FirstService has ignored their requests to discuss a “fair process” for workers to hold a union election.

“We want a seat at the table to fix the issues we see,” said Ramala Shelton, a desk attendant supervisor, during a news conference in downtown Minneapolis. “I’m ready to strike.”

Twin Cities workers at FirstService Residential, which boasts being the largest property management company in North America, launched a campaign to unionize in June, joining a national wave of labor organizing.

Calls to FirstService seeking comment were not returned.

Desk attendants and caretakers complain of meager wages, worsening benefits and a lack of job clarity.

A shift can include removing trespassers, inspecting mechanicals, cleaning common areas or responding to medical emergencies, even though they’re not trained or equipped to be security guards, maintenance workers or first responders.

Most earn less than $20 an hour with only part-time hours and expensive health benefits.

“I was denied a $1 (an hour) raise this year and can’t afford to pay for my medications because our health insurance deductible and out-of-pocket costs are so high,” said Haley Berk, a front-desk supervisor.

The workers intend to unionize with SEIU Local 26, which represents 8,000 property service workers across the Twin Cities including janitors, security guards and high-rise window washers.

Workers say they’ve requested meetings with FirstService leaders three times to discuss a process to hold a union election free from interference, but that the company has so far declined to meet with workers. Workers say they’ve set a deadline of Oct. 11 for FirstService to come to the table.

The group of condo workers includes around 300 workers, though not all of them would walk off the job should the union call a strike. A SEIU Local 26 leader said they would choose a handful of buildings to strike at.

FirstService desk attendants have unionized in both Chicago and New York, where they earn between $19 and $31 an hour, according to SEIU Local 26 President Greg Nammacher.

Minneapolis City Council Member Aisha Chughtai, a former political organizer for SEIU, joined the workers on Nicollet Avenue downtown and called on the company to meet with workers.

“Minneapolis is a union town,” Chughtai said. “It’s time for massive corporations like FirstService to listen to their workers and commit to a union vote that is free from management interference and harassment.”

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.