The Potluck

High rise window cleaners go on strike for higher wages, apprenticeship program

By: - August 16, 2021 2:25 pm

Window washers picket outside the IDS Center in downtown Minneapolis on Aug. 16, 2021. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Nearly 40 workers who clean the windows of Twin Cities high rise buildings hung up their squeegees and harnesses on Monday and began an indefinite strike after failing to secure higher wages and an apprenticeship program.

The workers, organized with the Service Employees International Union Local 26 (SEIU 26), began picketing early in the morning outside the IDS Center in downtown Minneapolis, yelling “Strike” and “Make the bosses clean the windows.”

“We’re not looking for anything that we don’t deserve, in my opinion,” said Eric Crone, who’s been a window washer for 12 years and serves on the bargaining committee of his union. “And if the bosses could just get their short arms into their deep pockets, I think we’d all be able to come to an understanding.”

Under their current contract with three cleaning companies, window washers earn $25.20 an hour. They want a $2 raise in the first year with smaller raises each of the following two years of a new three-year contract.

They also want a state-certified apprenticeship program that comes with licensure, which Crone says will raise standards in the industry and increase safety. Window washers currently have a training program, but it’s not recognized by the state.

“When you first start, there’s always nerves to it,” Crone said. “As time passes, you just get to enjoy the best office in the city.”

Window washers, in addition to cleaning acres of glass downtown, maintain the city’s high rises by caulking and repainting exteriors and helped to sanitize interiors during the pandemic. Crone says about half of workers in his bargaining unit became sick with COVID-19.

The striking workers are employed at two companies — Columbia Building Services and Final Touch Commercial Cleaning — neither of whom returned requests for comments. A third company covered by the workers’ contract, Apex North, agreed to the main demands from workers, who did not go on strike.

The SEIU 26 contract for window washers was extended for a year during the pandemic with a $1 raise and expired on Sunday.

Workers and their employers are scheduled to resume negotiations on Wednesday.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently 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.