Cub Foods cleaning workers on day five of hunger strike

Categories: Investigations

collolytorres.jpg
CTUL
Mario Colloly Torres, one of the hunger strikers
It has now been five days since Cub Foods cleaning workers began their hunger strike to protest low pay and what they say are unsafe and degrading working conditions.

"Over the last 10 years, our wages have been dropping," says Mario Colloly Torres, who cleaned Cub Foods stores for years before being fired in March.

"We've seen wages fall from about $10 an hour to $7.50 or $8 an hour," says Colloly Torres, speaking through a translator. "We work in a place surrounded by food, while a lot of the time we're not able to feed our own families because our wages are so miserable."

Colloly Torres hasn't eaten since Saturday, though he periodically sips on lemon juice and maple syrup. Eight others are also fasting.

Colloly Torres says Cub Foods may be the worst offender, but they're hardly the only one.
"This is a problem that's happening across the industry," he says.

Cub Foods argues the workers are barking up the wrong tree--they don't employ the workers, contracted cleaning companies do. Colloly Torres doesn't buy it:

"Big stores are pitting cleaning companies against each other to drive down the price of the contract, and we're the ones who end up suffering."

The hunger strike is only the latest stage of a months-long campaign by the cleaning workers. The campaign has so far been unsuccessful, and garnered little media attention, except for an incident in March when a Cub Foods security guard tackled a protester and unleashed pepper spray on other protesters and customers.

Potentially powerful allies are joining the workers, however. Major unions and religious groups have signed on to the campaign. Yesterday SEIU Local 26 President Javier Morillo joined the hunger strike himself, and State Senator Patricia Torres Ray spoke to the protesters, who have pitched tents outside the East Lake Cub Foods since the strike started.

Some of the workers explain the reason behind the hunger strike here:

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Shannon
Shannon

Cub should be certain that it's contractors provide acceptable wages and conditions for those subcontracting in thier stores, if the nature of these outsourced labor contracts cannot provide for this, they should go back to insourcing these jobs to cub employees. Ultimately the Cub foods company and it's brand IS responsible for those who work to make the Cub brand profitable. Though it is a privilige to work, it is ALSO a privilige to have work done for you. And Cub employees and contractors are ultimately more responsible for the direct success of the business than any administration or stockholders. They are the faces who make our shopping a positive experience, and they should be compensated a living wage for thier efforts to provide a clean and friendly shopping environment. 

Patrick
Patrick

Who has the power to resolve this issue?  The janitorial contractor? No, not really, to win the cleaning contract from Cub Foods, they have to bid so low to beat out the competition that they cannot afford to pay decent wages or benefits.  Cub Foods is trying to subcontract their moral responsiblity that everyone that works in their facility be treated justly.  They could easily remedy this situation by requiring contractors to pay a living wage, provide basic benefits etc. It is the large retail outfits that drive the subcontracted janitorial market.  They can decide to take the high road and make sure these are decent jobs for our community or they can create more poverty jobs that tax our social serices and increase misery in our community.  I suspect that the union members at these stores support these workers cause.   

Sean
Sean

The specific nature of the working conditions (how many people are on a crew, etc.)  are controlled by the cleaning company, not Cub.  Cub stores are open 24-7, so the building conditions shouldn't be an issue.  To blame Cub for conditions that are in fact most directly controllable by the cleaning company is absurd.  These workers should be organizing against their employers, not Cub.

Folks need to consider the real world considerations here, too.  Cub is losing far more customers right now because its cost structure is higher than Walmart and Target  than they will ever gain in positive publicity were they to agree to CTUL's demands. 

That's why this is a no-win from a labor perspective.  If Cub agrees to CTUL's demands, the increased labor costs get passed on to Cub customers while other grocers get to keep using cheaper cleaning labor.  Net result:  Union Cub is weakened competitively versus its non-union competition and eventually jobs go away.    If Cub doesn't agree, CTUL continues to make trouble for Cub, driving folks away (and probably substantially to non-union competition).  Net result:  Union Cub loses sales to non-union competitors and eventually jobs go away. 

Sean
Sean

So the way we're going to make things better for workers is to embarrass the company with a union workforce in its stores and in its local distribution center?  I bet things will really get better for local grocery workers if more and more of the grocery market is controlled by non-union employers like Wal-Mart, Target, Aldi, and Costco.

clogie
clogie

Sounds like there's nowhere to go but up. And why would any company be embarrassed to say that its workers had a living wage, and worked in clean, sanitary and  safe conditions?

The one example you include, Costco, is known for excellent pay and benefits, flexible hours and free memberships given to employees. If they can do it, so can the others. And things *will* be better, for everyone.

Sean
Sean

These aren't Cub employees, though.  They're employees of a Cub vendor.  The issues these workers have are really with the vendor, not with Cub.

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