Twin Cities janitors call off strike after reaching tentative agreement

    iris altamirano
    SEIU Local 26 President Iris Altamirano speaking at a news conference in February 2020 in Minneapolis. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

    The union representing 4,000 Twin Cities janitors reached a tentative contract agreement early Saturday morning, avoiding an open-ended strike that would have affected businesses across the metro as Minnesota confronts the arrival of COVID-19.

    The tentative agreement includes the highest pay increases ever for commercial janitors with the Service Employees International Union Local 26, raising hourly pay for full time workers from $16.62 to $18.62 over the next four years, outpacing typical inflation. Part time workers will see an even larger pay raise from $11.12 to $16 an hour over the life of the contract.

    “It was a really hard negotiation,” said SEIU Local 26 President Iris Altamirano, adding they negotiated for 22 hours straight before landing a tentative deal. “I can’t understate how our workers were just so strong and that we pulled off a wildly successful (deal).”

    The janitors had gone on strike for 24 hours in late February, which Altamirano said helped bring the employers closer in negotiations on sick days.

    The janitors, who clean airplanes as well as nearly all offices in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, were able to secure six sick days for all full time employees. That policy helps newer workers in the suburbs in particular; all full time employees in Minneapolis and St. Paul are already entitled to six sick days a year under new city ordinances.

    Another sticking point had been a “green cleaning technician” program, which the union had tried to secure in previous negotiations. They weren’t able to get exactly what they wanted, but the employers have agreed to contribute one to two cents per worked hour into a fund that will be used to improve health, safety and environmental sustainability, according to Altamirano.

    The tentative agreement also reduces the cost of health insurance and adds sexual harassment policies into the contract.

    A lawyer for the employers would not comment on the specifics of the agreement, which must be ratified by a union vote, but said they are glad to have avoided a strike.

    “We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the union and are looking forward to getting back to work,” said John Nesse, an attorney for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Contract Cleaners Association, which represents more than a dozen employers.

    SEIU Local 26 represents some 8,000 workers across the Twin Cities including security guards, janitors in retail stores and airport workers.

    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.