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Retail cleaning workers start hunger strike

Workers demand Cub Foods negotiate for better wages and conditions

By Brad Sigal |
May 23, 2011
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Mario Cololly, hunger striker for justice in retail cleaning
Mario Cololly of CTUL, one of the hunger strikers for justice in retail cleaning (Fight Back! News/Staff)
Protesters and danzantes support hunger strike on day one
Danzantes perform and join protest on day one of hunger strike
Protesters and danzantes support hunger strike on day one (Fight Back! News/Staff)
Danzantes perform and join protest on day one of hunger strike (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Minneapolis, MN - On May 21, four retail cleaning workers and four of their supporters started a hunger strike to demand justice. The goal of the hunger strike is to get Cub Foods management to start negotiating with their retail cleaning workers for better wages and working conditions. The hunger strike was kicked off with a large rally at noon. Later in the afternoon, a large group of Danzantes joined the protest and performed.

The hunger strikers and supporters have set up a round-the-clock encampment at the highly visible Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue intersection in south Minneapolis, in front of a shopping center where there is a Cub Foods store. They will have a protest action there every day from 10:00 a.m. until noon and again from 5:00 until 7:00 p.m. and are encouraging people to join them. Supporters can also stop by anytime between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. every day to show their solidarity.

Retail cleaning workers at Cub Foods and other major retail chains in the Twin Cities are mostly immigrant workers. They work overnight shift cleaning large grocery stores. Ten years ago, Twin Cities retail cleaning workers earned an average of over $10 per hour and had four workers cleaning on a shift. Now the retail corporations have contracted out cleaning to outside cleaning contractors. They pit these contractors against each other by every year taking the lowest bid for a new contract, driving down wages every year. Now retail cleaning workers doing the same work make around $7.50 per hour and only have two workers cleaning on a shift. In other words, double the workload for less money.

The Campaign for Justice in Retail Cleaning was launched in November 2010 by the Center for Workers United in Struggle (CTUL, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha). They are demanding that all the major Twin Cities retail stores adopt a code of conduct industry-wide to establish improved wages and working conditions for all retail cleaning workers.

The campaign is targeting Cub Foods first, trying to get them to lead the way by agreeing first to a code of conduct. Until now, Cub has not only refused to negotiate, but has reacted with hostility to the campaign. They fired cleaning worker Mario Cololly, who was one of the workers leading the organizing campaign. Then their security guards tackled and pepper sprayed nonviolent protesters doing a street theater skit protesting Mario’s firing. In the face of Cub’s refusal to negotiate, CTUL decided to launch a hunger strike.

Check for updates on the hunger strike and the campaign for justice in retail cleaning at http://ctul.net/hunger-strike