Updated: 02/25/2013 9:43 AM KSTP.com By: Mark Saxenmeyer
For months, the union representing a large number of Twin Cities janitors and security officers has been trying to negotiate new contracts for them.
On Saturday, the cleaning crews reached an agreement, but the guards are headed out on strike--as early as Monday.
Both the security officers and the janitors have been working without a contract since December 31st.
More than 4,200 janitors who were threatening a walk-out have agreed to $1.20 an hour raise from their employers (spread out over three years).
The janitors' new deal is the result of 31 straight hours at the negotiating table. Their union says they've also agreed to an an additional day of sick leave, and that they're also celebrating what they say is better employer-based health care coverage (which will allow them to rely less on public programs paid for by taxpayers).
But as for the security officers, they say whoever might fill in for them while they're on a picket line won't be properly equipped to deal with emergencies. According to Fred Anthony, a security officer who works at the Ecolab building in downtown St. Paul, "They don't know our buildings, they don't know our procedures. they don't know our clients, they don't know our tenants."
Since the late 1990s, Fred has helped protect Ecolab. His wife Rae says calling him a "rent-a-cop" is insulting. "He makes sure nobody is coming into his building that isn't supposed to be there," she said. "He makes sure there isn't anything life threatening going on."
Rae is a school bus driver. The couple lives with their only child in a small home in St. Paul. "Sometimes we have to choose like.'do we fill up the trucks?' or 'do we go grocery shopping?'"
Fred says he and the other 2,000 security officers trying to wrangle a raise asked for a dollar more an hour. "Hopefully it at least covers the cost of living," Fred said.
But Fred's union says the security contractors that Fred and the other guards work for instead wanted wage cuts. "It's just greed, just rampant greed. That's just something that we absolutely can't stand for."
Talks between both sides broke down on Friday. "We have not gotten a counter proposal from the bosses' side of the table," Fred said.
A lawyer and spokesman for those bosses, David Duddleston (he represents seven security contractors) would only say the two sides are "working hard and making progress," despite the fact there are no plans to return to the bargaining table until March 13th. He wouldn't comment about the possibility of a walk-out.
"I don't think any of us want to strike but it's the most powerful tool we have," Fred said. "We have to fight to make things better."
Fred simply wants a better life for his family. "I would love to live a little bit more comfortably. I would love to be completely out of debt. I mean, I would love to be able save. I have nothing as far as retirement."
These days, he says he's barely clinging to the middle class "I think we're, like, there at the bottom level. Kind of hanging on by our fingertips."
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org