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Twin Cities Janitors, Security Guards Authorize Strike

Union representing the workers demands higher wages, more sick time.

Twin Cities Janitors, Security Guards Authorize Strike
SEIU Local 26 gathered to vote on Saturday. (Photo: Chris Juhn / SEIU Local 26)

A second labor union in the Twin Cities is inching toward a strike.

On Saturday, three divisions of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 26⁠ — which represents thousands of janitors and security officers in the area ⁠— unanimously voted to authorize a strike. 

For more than three months, the union has been negotiating new contracts for janitors and security guards who staff several downtown high rises, including the IDS Center and U.S. Bank Plaza. The three SEIU divisions that voted on Saturday represent about 6,500 workers. In total, the Local 26 chapter represents more than 8,000 employees.

The remaining divisions are slated to take up a strike vote of their own “very soon,” said Iris Altamirano, president of SEIU Local 26.

“We need a wage that can keep up with housing costs,” she said. “Rent is going up. More and more of the workers that I represent … will not be able to afford living in the city.”

Janitors working full-time now make $16.40 an hour, while security guards make between $13 and $16 an hour. The union hopes to increase wages for both types of workers.

Altamirano noted that the union hasn’t yet set a date to begin striking, though it could begin at any time. In the meantime, negotiations will continue. SEIU officials will meet with cleaning contractors at least four more times over the next two weeks.

John Nesse, an attorney representing the cleaning contractors, said that employers have made several offers to union workers, but all have been rejected. 

“The union has only made one proposal on wages and health insurance,” Nesse said. “They made that in November and they have not moved off of it.”

Nesse said he expects to reach an agreement on a wage increase in 2020. But the employers and the union haven’t yet agreed on the amount of the increase.

The workers' current contracts have either expired or will expire soon. Janitors held a 24-hour strike four years ago, which paved the way for wage increases in contracts that followed. Over a four-year contract, wages increased by more than 12 percent.

News of the strike vote came a day after another SEIU chapter authorized a strike. On Friday, HealthPartners workers represented by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota voted to authorize a seven-day strike, which would begin Feb. 19. That union represents about 1,800 non-physician workers, including nurses, dental hygienists, and physician assistants.

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