21 Aug 2014
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A Retail Cleaning Worker Says Why She's Ready to Strike

Blanca Jimenez works for Diversified Maintenance Systems cleaning the Kmart big-box store in Burnsville.

A Retail Cleaning Worker Says Why She's Ready to Strike

Blanca Jimenez is among scores of Twin Cities cleaning workers who are vowing to walk off their jobs as early as Sunday at local big-box stores in a dispute with their employers, contract cleaning companies.

Jimenez and some 400 other workers have signed petitions asking that the contract cleaning companies recognize their right to organize and open labor discussions with Centro de Trabajodores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL).

In an interview with Patch, Jimenez said she has been working for contractor Diversified Maintenance Systems at the Burnsville Kmart store for the past two years. But the experience has been less than fulfilling, Jimenez said. 

"I don't like the way the company treats us," said Jimenez, 40, originally from Mexico. 

Through an interpreter, Jimenez, who now lives in south Minneapolis, said she and the workers want decent wages, benefits, regular days off and other improvements. "We want the chance to see our dreams come true," she said. 

Jimenez said workers today earn $8.25 an hour, less than the $12 an hour that the cleaners were paid about a decade ago.

Jimenez added that she and her husband Santos, also a retail cleaner, work four to five hours every day and don't get any time off.  

"It is really hard and difficult to work this schedule," she said. "We put up with it because we don't have another job."

For more than the past two years, the CTUL, a Minneapolis workers center, has been organizing the retail cleaners. But Jimenez said the contract cleaning companies have been retaliating against workers, threatening to fire some of them if they strike. 

"They (the employers) don't understand that we have rights and protection to organize," said Jimenez, who has three children ages 18 to 20 living in Mexico that she and her husband are helping support.  

In a recent press statement, the CTUL said it has set a its strike deadline for noon Feb. 24 for retail cleaning contactors like Diversified Maintenance Systems, Carlson Building Maintenance, and Eurest Services. The workers group, which claims to represent at least 400 cleaners, said it wants to start discussions with the employer groups, which perform cleaning services for a variety of retailers,  about the right to organize without fear of retaliation.

Asked how she feels about going on strike, Jimenez said, "I'm not scared. I know I have rights and it gives me a lot of energy to protect my rights." 

Veronica Mendez, a spokesperson with the CTUL, said that more than a dozen Target stores in the Twin Cities are among local retailers who could be affected by a possible workers' work stoppage. She said the retail cleaners work at Target stores in, among other locations, Burnsville and Roseville.

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