Minnesota Janitors Say They Worked Seven Days a Week with No Overtime Pay

MINNEAPOLIS– Workers from Diversified Maintenance Systems, a cleaning contractor for retail stores including Kmart, Target, and Best Buy, held a press conference this week to announce a lawsuit charging that the cleaning contractor allegedly required them to work up to 80 hours a week without overtime pay. Diversified Maintenance has been the subject of at least six private lawsuits and an investigation by the Department of Labor over its failure to pay overtime wages.   The lawsuit can be downloaded at http://www.scribd.com/doc/91285458/Lawsuit.

“I worked for Diversified for about three years, 7 days a week 8 hours a day. I was told by management that I had to punch in 5 days with my name and employee number. For the other two days I was told to punch in with the name and number of a ‘ghost employee.’ I was then paid cash for those days, but I was not paid at the overtime rate. Over three years, that’s a lot of money,” said Maria Cruz, one of the workers who brought the lawsuit.

At the same time the workers’ organization CTUL (Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha/the Center for Workers United in Struggle) released a report that argues that low wages and other problems “pervade the retail janitorial industry in Minnesota and throughout the United States.”  The report, “Dirty Business: Worker Exploitation in the Retail Janitorial Industry” can be found at http://www.scribd.com/doc/91284972/A-Dirty-Business-CTUL-Report.  The report shows that many of the cleaning contractors hired by retail stores in Minnesota and throughout the United States regularly failed to pay overtime to janitors who work well in excess of forty hours a week.

“This study sheds light on the reality faced by thousands of retail cleaning workers around the country as well as here in the Twin Cities, citing multiple examples of federal lawsuits and United States Department of Labor investigations that have happened in the industry regarding unpaid overtime wages, all taking place over the past decade. It is shocking to learn that such conditions exist in the shadow of stores like Kmart and Sears,” said Stephen Phillon, Associate Professor of Sociology, St. Cloud State University.

“As a sociologist who studies the social conditions of immigrant labor in Minnesota,”  Phillion continued, “this white paper stands out as a powerful one precisely because methodologically it pulls together relevant data from relevant government agencies, Minnesota retail cleaning workers who have directly experienced the consequences of intensified and out of control national and global competition, and even industry officials themselves. ”

According to the report, department stores and supermarkets contract out their janitorial work seemingly to cut costs and avoid responsibility.  There is fierce competition among the janitorial companies for these contracts, with each company trying to underbid the other. Since labor is by far the largest and most costly expense in a cleaning contract, the company with the lowest labor costs tends to win the contract.

In some cases, workers believe that the janitorial companies try to minimize their labor costs with practices such as not paying overtime or by requiring employees to get more work done in a shorter period of time.

“I held two jobs because of the low wages.  We work in a place filled with food and yet we can barely feed our families,” said Mario Colloly Torres who used to clean a supermarket and now works with CTUL. “They look for a cleaning company that is going to give the lowest price for the work. The result for us: lower wages and increased workloads.”

The report argues that contractors count on the predominantly immigrant workforce not being aware of their rights or being afraid of retaliation if they complain.  In one case, a Philadelphia cleaning company even went so far as to enslave their workers and to threaten the workers and their families with physical violence if they try to escape.

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CTUL (Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha/the Center for Workers United in Struggle) is a community organization that works for fair wages, better working conditions, basic respect, and a voice in our workplaces. www.ctul.net

Media contact: Veronica Mendez, veronica@ctul.net

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