Hundreds of janitors and security officers who clean and protect buildings throughout the Twin Cities and their supporters marched through Minneapolis skyways Monday to ramp up their campaign for a fair contract that begins to close racial and economic disparities.

Wearing Santa hats and carrying banners and scarfs highlighting the campaign’s theme of “Reclaim Your Dreams,” marchers wound their way through several blocks of the skyway system.

Bargaining has been underway since early November between subcontractors and Service Employees International Union Local 26 on contracts covering some 6,000 workers. Workers set goals that include a $15 minimum wage, reasonable workloads and policies that allow families to be healthy.

The janitors’ contracts expire Dec. 31; the security officers’ pacts in March. More bargaining sessions are scheduled, the union said.

“We are fighting not only for our own families, but to help move our region and state in the right direction,” said James Matias, a Local 26 member and part of the union’s Executive Board.

“In bargaining, we found that raising wages to $15 for all janitors and security officers would lead to over $30 million of economic activity each year being pumped into our communities. Local 26 members are overwhelmingly people of color, which means that money would be going back into areas that have been left behind by our economy for far too long.”

Another issue brought forward by Local 26 members is the growing workload. Many janitors in the Twin Cities clean the equivalent of more than 20 homes per night. In the last two decades, janitorial workloads have increased, making janitorial the highest of all occupations in Minnesota for “lost days from work” due to injury, the union said.

“We are doing more and more with less and less, which puts intense pressure us each and every night,” said Elia Starkweather, who is sub-contracted to clean the Ameriprise tower in Minneapolis. “Myself and other janitors clean the equivalent of over 20 houses per night, and that has led to me getting hurt and interfering with my ability to spend time with my children when I get off work. This is happening all over, and it isn’t right.”

Other issues include quality, affordable health care coverage, earned sick and safe time and paid vacation.

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