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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.

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.

John Edwin Childs February 23, 2013 at 10:29 PM
Many people making less and happy to have jobs today.
Clare Kennedy February 24, 2013 at 04:24 AM
I disagree John. I don't think anyone making less than $8.25 an hour is happy and satisfied, and I would know because I was in that boat recently myself. That's not a living wage, and that's the whole point of having a job—to be able to pay for your basic needs. I'm glad that people like Blanca are willing to take a risk and insist on better conditions, adequate time off, and pay that will actually suffice for rent, transportation and food. A larger and larger number of industrious, talented people work full time, or have more than one job, and still can't afford basic necessities. What's your proposed solution to that problem, if not a strike?
Devils Advocate February 24, 2013 at 07:47 AM
Is this A joke? A strike would do nothing to help these people. Why is it that everywhere I look I see people crying "victim"? Are we not all in control of our own destinies? If you don't like your job, find another. Also while $8.25 per hour is a very low wage especially if you are only working 4-5 hours a day there would be ample time for a 2nd job if needed. Many people do it including myself at one point in time. American citizens better themselves by working hard, not whining because things are not the same as 10 years ago.
J.A.Buendia February 25, 2013 at 09:27 PM
Devil's Advocate, It seems to me that you're whining about people whining. Is it whining for a worker to stand up for their legal right to organize? The fact that there are other people who may be worse off is no excuse for defending the indefensible. Why do anything to stop the beating of children? After all, there are a lot of kids out there who are tortured worse and even killed. Good for you, Clare, for defending Blanca. You represent St.Olaf well.

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