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Hunger Strike Spotlights Contract Retail Cleaners Getting Sub-Standard Wages

Things are so bad now for so many people, it's considered reasonable for companies to outsource -- even though it isn't. It only kicks the people at the bottom. But it's so inhuman. That's why organizers and local clergy hope to bring Cub Foods

Things are so bad now for so many people, it's considered reasonable for companies to outsource -- even though it isn't. It only kicks the people at the bottom. But it's so inhuman. That's why organizers and local clergy hope to bring Cub Foods management to the bargaining table in Minneapolis:

Four retail cleaning workers and four community allies will begin an open–ended hunger strike Saturday to ratchet up pressure on the Supervalu grocery chain. The workers, members of a Minneapolis worker center, want the company to negotiate a code of conduct that guarantees fair wages and conditions for the workers who clean its stores late into the night.

The group, led by immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America, also seeks the reinstatement of an illegally fired workplace leader.

“The drastic nature of our action is only equal to the drastic conditions under which retail cleaning workers have to work,” said Mario Colloly, the fired worker. He’s one of the hunger strikers.

After months of requests by workers and their allies for a meeting, and a November march that brought 300 members and supporters to protest in front of several stores, retail cleaning workers in the Twin Cities have said enough is enough. They are organizing with the support of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), or the Workers United in Struggle Center, along with faith, community, and union allies.

[...] A mad dash to outsource cleaning services to the lowest bidder over the last decades has caused vicious competition among cleaning subcontractors—with severe consequences for workers. Retail cleaners in Minneapolis say wages have been cut from $12 an hour, with some benefits, to minimum wage (sometimes less) with no benefits.

Wage cuts and workload increases have been the most dramatic at Cub Foods, which is run by Supevalu. Other abuses, said CTUL organizer Brian Payne, include sexual harassment, lack of air conditioning or heating, and threats of physical violence.

The industry as a whole is plagued by severe wage theft and human rights violations. Acting on a tip from overseas, the Department of Justice uncovered a slavery ring in Pennsylvania last year where Ukrainian cleaners put in 16-hour days, seven days a week, at retail stores including Target, Kmart, Wal-Mart, and Safeway, for $100 a month. Prosecutors said workers were raped, beaten, threatened, and held in virtual bondage.

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