Unions in Twin Cities build a coalition, take on boss attacks

By Edwin Fruit
April 1, 2024

MINNEAPOLIS — Five days of strikes and labor actions have culminated in a number of new contract agreements in the Twin Cities area, after a coalition of unions formed last October organized coordinated actions in March.

Workers who clean office buildings, members of Service Employees International Union Local 26, began a three-day strike March 4. They kicked things off by picketing office buildings and marching to a rally at the Ameriprise Financial building here.

“We want pensions for our retirement,” Biatrice Vasques, a striking member of SEIU Local 26, told the Militant. “Together we have more power. If there was just one person fighting, they would ignore us. When we stand together, they see us.” She works in the building where the rally took place.

CNN interviewed George Mullins, 66, who has been a janitor for 35 years. He said his pay of $18.62 an hour is barely enough to get by. “There’s a lot of things you used to be able to do that you can’t do with the inflation that’s set in,” he said. “I want to retire, but the reason I’m still working now is there’s no pension.”

On March 9 the union announced they had reached a tentative agreement with the bosses. If voted up, SEIU Local 26 members will see wages rise to $20 an hour for all workers, increased sick days, more workers on full time and lower health care costs.

Over 1,000 nursing home workers, members of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa, went out on a one-day strike March 5. They picketed a number of facilities and rallied at the state Capitol in St. Paul.

In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Jared Mituga, a registered nurse at The Estates at St. Louis Park said, “They are disrespecting us because they don’t value us. So for us to be valued, we expect that they pay us, protect us and give us better wages and better benefits.

“For us to give the patient the care they need, you have to have a better staffing ratio,” he said. The union is demanding a minimum wage of $25 an hour.

The Minnesota Nurses Association, members of UFCW Local 663, and other unionists joined the rally.

Over 300 workers gathered at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport March 6 to support the janitors, wheelchair pushers and aircraft cabin cleaners, members of SEIU Local 26, in their contract fight. They are demanding higher wages and a less expensive health care plan. A handful of marchers sat down in the road and got arrested. Many of the janitors, nursing home staff and airport workers are originally from Latin America, Africa and other countries.

An organizer from UNITE HERE Local 17 at the rally said their union is in contract discussions with a couple of restaurants and concession stands at the airport.

On March 7 the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha, which supports workers seeking better working conditions and respect from area employers, sponsored a rally of over 100 in front of Solhem, a housing developer. Workers tried to deliver a letter protesting wage theft by the company.

More than 400 Minneapolis public works employees, members of Laborers Local 363, voted to accept a new contract that raises wages nearly 30% over the next three years, the Minnesota Reformer reported.

Over 2,000 bus operators and Metro Transit workers who had authorized a strike ratified a new contract in February that will increase wages 13% by August 2025. The St. Paul Education Association reached a tentative agreement after voting to strike in mid-March.