MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) You might not think about who cleans your grocery store. In south Minneapolis Saturday, people protested what they call an “invisible industry” that’s the target of unfair working conditions.
Many of those workers who clean retail grocery stores came forward to fight their employers, saying that big corporations are paying less and demanding more.
Hundreds marched down three miles of Lake Street in south Minneapolis voicing a need for an industry-wide campaign. They also rallied at local churches, calling out Supervalu-owned Cub Foods as having the most “egregious” conditions for cleaning workers.
The protesters also complained about the working conditions for cleaning workers at Target, and Lunds and Byerly’s corporations.
“We are here today because we are fighting for fair wages and working conditions,” said Mario Colloly, who works for Carlson Building Maintenance, a contractor for Cub Foods. “Right now our wages are about $7.25 or sometimes less and our workload has doubled over the last 10 years.”
Colloly said three years ago, he made $9 an hour and now he has a second job to support his family in Minneapolis.
But the stores don’t hire the employees directly. Grant Stevenson was among the marchers. He is a pastor at St. Matthews Lutheran Church and part of a group called Spirit of Truth Ministry. He said shoppers should be aware of what is happening behind the scenes.
“The places where these folks go to work, isn’t the place that employs them, so everyone gets to say, ‘It’s not my problem, you have to talk to the other people,’ so it’s perfect situation for people to be employed and forgotten and invisible,” said Stevenson.
“The large corporations are putting out cleaning contracts in bulk and forcing the contract down to the lowest bid,” explained Elizabeth Loeb, an organizer with the non-profit Centro De Trabajadores Unidos En Lucha (CTUL), an organization that says it was founded to help workers struggling with fair wages.
Ana Llely cleans a Lunds grocery store.
“It’s really hard because we barely have enough money to pay our rent and we are struggling every month to be able to buy food for our families,” she said, adding that many employees fear the consequences of speaking out. “We have been threatened by managers that are telling us we should be careful and maintain our jobs and shouldn’t be organizing and they have retaliated against us.”
Loeb said the cleaning workers have been trying for months to get their employers to establish workplace standards and those companies have not responded to letters and petitions in the past six months.
Loeb said shoppers and consumers should be aware that the system creates the struggle and in the end, the public pays for the struggle.
“If we allow the stores in our community to hurt people through employment, we are actually hurting our own neighborhoods and so it affects all of us,” said Loeb.
Next, the retail cleaning workers are asking their employers for a code of conduct which would include fair wages, wage increases and benefits as well as a right to organize without fear of retaliation.
Phone calls to Target and Lunds/Byerly’s were not returned before this report, but Supervalu, which owns Cub Foods, issued this statement:
“At SUPERVALU, we care about our associates and the contractors who work in our stores, and we work hard to make sure they have a safe and positive environment to work in every day. The people who clean our Cub Foods stores are employed by another company. Our contract with their employer requires that all laws are followed, and the employer has assured us that they are complying with our contract. We encourage these individuals to reach out to their employer directly if they have specific concerns they believe need to be addressed.”
Cub’s cleaning contractor, Carlson Building Maintenance, also responded to the allegations. Attorney Amy Rotenberg said the company pays its employees fair and competitive wages in a tight economy, in excess of minimum wage to more than $20 per hour depending on experience, responsibility and training.