Workers in Minnesota Fight to Survive

Maricela Flores, a single mother of four, struggles every day to find ways for her family to live on $8 an hour. Hundreds of Minnesotans like Maricela leave their homes and families after dinner to work late night shifts for contracted janitorial companies. They clean retail stores around the state, including many Targets in our communities. Now they're standing up and demanding a chance at a better future for their children.

It takes 86 hours a week working in a minimum wage job to pay for an average two-bedroom apartment in Minnesota, according to Minnesota 2020. That's 12 hours a day, seven days a week. That does not include food, water, electricity or health care.

Over the past 10 years, wages have tumbled in the retail cleaning industry. Five federal lawsuits alleging millions of dollars in unpaid wages in the contracted cleaning of Target stores around the country have been filed during that same time.

Employees of Diversified Maintenance Systems, who clean Targets and other stores in the Twin Cities, settled a class action lawsuit for $675,000 last February. The lawsuit alleged that janitors were forced to work up to 80 hours per week without receiving full overtime pay. The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry recently cited Carlson Building Maintenance, the company that employs Maricela, with 8 "serious" violations of health and safety laws. The company placed 24 workers who work in the Twin Cities in jobs where "substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result," according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration findings.

There is no reason that workers like Maricela should work full-time, live in poverty, and risk their lives. Since 2009, 95 percent of the reported income gains in the United States have gone to the top 1 percent instead of being shared with working families.

It's no accident that real wages have declined while executive pay and corporate profits have climbed rapidly. There is simply no excuse for it.

But Maricela is standing up and speaking out.

She's part of a national movement of low-wage workers from fast food to retail to janitors who are standing up and demanding fair wages, decent working conditions and the right to organize without fear of retaliation. Retail janitors, including Maricela, have been organizing with Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL).

Marciela and her fellow organizers want change. A full day's work should bring a full day's pay.

In June, under pressure from a second workers' strike, Target executives opened a dialogue with workers. The workers and Target began a series of meetings to explore ways to change the janitorial industry and ensure fair wages and better working conditions. Dialogue is an important step, but it's not enough. All of Minnesota's working families deserve a living wage today.

Over 300 low-wage workers and their families will be gathering to celebrate the sixth anniversary of CTUL on October 12. I hope that Target's executives will live up to their reputation as a socially responsible corporation in our community by standing with the thousands of janitors who clean their stores.

Minnesotans who work full-time shouldn't be living in poverty. Increasing income inequality has put more and more families at risk. If your income hasn't been hit, it's possible a family member or neighbor is finding it harder than ever to make ends meet. Raising the federal minimum wage and protecting workers' rights to organize are important first steps in supporting our neighbors.

I am proud to stand with Maricela Flores, the hundreds of retail janitors in the Twin Cities, and the thousands of fast food and retail workers around the country calling for fair wages, fair working conditions, and the right to organize without fear of retaliation.

These Minnesotans are fighting for a chance at the American dream for their children. We should stand with them.