Window cleaners took to the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, last week after their employers locked them out jobs for raising safety concerns. Members of Service Employees International Union Local 26 have grown more concerned about the condition of the equipment their lives depend upon as they work suspended hundreds of feet above the city streets.
The window cleaners say that economic conditions have led their employers to scale back and cut corners, compromising safety. Derek Eggert, a long-time window cleaner, told Workday Minnesota that in recent years he and his fellow workers have had to work with rusty and cracked equipment and ropes that are worn past their legal limit.
According to union members, when they approached their employers, Marsden Building Maintenance / Final Touch and Columbia Building Services, with their concerns, they were stonewalled. The workers have been negotiating a new contract for about a month, but have not yet reached an agreement with their employers. They are currently working without a contract, a union spokesman said.
Three window cleaners in the last three years have fallen to their deaths in Minneapolis. Family members of one of the men killed while cleaning windows joined other union members to show their support.
Fidel Sanchez-Flores was working on the IDS Center building in downtown Minneapolis in 2007 when he fell several stories and died. Widow Vielka Molinar-Sanchez said no family should go through what they have experienced because of substandard, dangerous equipment.
“You don’t know what it’s like to have someone leave for work in the morning and not come home,” Molinar-Sanchez said.
State Representative Jim Davnie, a Minneapolis Democrat, agreed and said he would introduce legislation that would boost safety for the workers. “To have three window cleaners die in the last three years in Minneapolis alone is really a call for us to step up and take action,” Davnie said.
The window cleaning industry has voluntary standards for equipment, equipment installation, and work practices. Davnie’s legislation would make the window washing industry’s own standards mandatory and legally binding. Workers currently have no legal recourse as employers ignore their own standards and force workers to labor under increasingly dangerous conditions.