The Potluck

Workers threaten second strike at Twin Cities’ largest condo management company

By: - March 23, 2023 2:45 pm

Former FirstService Residential caretaker Kevin Borowske speaks at a news conference in front of River Towers in Minneapolis on March 23, 2023, to announce an unfair labor practices strike. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Desk attendants and caretakers at FirstService Residential, the largest property management company in North America, announced on Thursday they will launch a second unfair labor practices strike at condo buildings across the Twin Cities unless the company’s leaders come to the negotiating table.

Workers launched a unionization campaign nine months ago but say the company has not met with them to discuss a “fair process” for holding a union election free from interference or harassment.

“We’ve been pushing for a fair process from management for months,” said Michael Rubke, a FirstService desk attendant at a news conference in front of River Towers in Minneapolis. “It’s time for action from those in power.”

Desk attendants and caretakers complain of meager wages, worsening benefits and poorly defined job responsibilities. Some desk attendants and caretakers at seven of the Twin Cities’ largest condo buildings went on strike in October but said it failed to win them a meeting with FirstService leaders. On Thursday, workers said the strike could affect more condo buildings next week.

Emails to FirstService Residential Minnesota President Mark Gittleman and Executive Vice President Andrew Gittleman were not returned.

The union hopes to avoid a lengthy and expensive election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board and wants the company to commit to recognizing the union if a majority of workers sign union cards through a process called “card check.”

If successful, the union could cover as many as 300 workers at condo buildings across the Twin Cities metro area. The workers intend to unionize with the Service Employees International Union Local 26, which represents 8,000 property service workers across the Twin Cities, including janitors, security guards and high-rise window washers.

Workers allege the company has retaliated against union organizers.

Former FirstService caretaker Kevin Borowske was recently fired after a history of organizing workers for higher pay and a union. He and his wife were forced to move out of their apartment in CentreVillage after nearly a decade of working for the company. Borowske says he still hasn’t received an explanation for his termination and has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

“After years of dedication to this company, my wife and I still made near minimum wage,” Borowske said. “I asked for raises. I took on more responsibilities. I hustled. I gained new skills and certifications. Yet the company was only interested in their bottom line.”

Borowske and his wife also faced the prospect of not being able to find similar work after their terminations because of non-compete agreements they were required to sign. FirstService later freed them from that agreement and then nullified the non-compete agreements for all its Minnesota caretakers and desk attendants.

Noncompete agreements have come under scrutiny by regulators and lawmakers, who say the provisions stifle competition and suppress wages. The Legislature is currently considering a bill (SF405) that would ban non-compete agreements in the state.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.