To prepare for strike vote, SEIU teams up with Rogue Citizen to throw an art show
SEIU members marched through the skyways last week in protest.
The contracts for the 6,000 security officers and janitors who are members of SEIU Local 26 expired January 1. For nearly three months, the union has been bargaining over the terms of a new agreement, but talks have stalled to the point where on February 9, members will vote on whether to strike.
But first, they're rallying. Tonight, Local 26 members will team up with Rogue Citizen to host an art show and concert at Bedlam Community Center. The roster of artists showing is nearly 40 names long, and includes both familiar faces like DWITT -- who created an original piece for the event about his experience working as a custodian -- next to art from about 15 union members. The music lineup features a similar mix, with nine acts that switch between Local 26 member bands to Mankwe Ndosi and Toki Wright.
The event is free, but 50 percent of art sales will go into a strike fund (the other half goes to the artist), and guests will be able to donate to the cause. "It's snowballed into this exciting thing, which is equal parts art exhibition, folk concert, and fundraiser," says Matt Wells, aka Lizardman of Rogue Citizen. "When contracts expired and we started planning this event, it became clear to us that negotiations were not going smoothly or going at all in some cases, and that this had to be big."
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SEIU members are the ones who guard and clean many of the big office buildings downtown: Wells Fargo, Target, US Bank. Negotiations with these major corporations' subcontractors haven't been moving.
"Basically the companies have just been giving us the runaround," says Demetruis Moore, a 10-year security officer and SEIU brigade member. "They cancel meetings, and they hired a federal mediator but pretty much wasted his time as well as ours, because they ultimately didn't bring anything to the table."
Bargaining hasn't even progressed to the point where issues like pay raises are getting discussed. Right now, SEIU is just trying to talk about basic principles, such as a definition of how much work a janitor should have to do in one night. Janitors clean, on average, the square-foot equivalent of 30 houses nightly, and 53 percent of members report an increased workload over the past three years.
"We want to have written job descriptions of what janitors do, a stricter definition in our contract of how much work a worker is going to have, and its increase over time," Steve Payne, SEIU's lead organizer, explains. "Companies are refusing to move on that at all." Those businesses also want to eliminate full-time janitorial positions, which would slash benefits and hourly rates.
Security officers in St. Paul went on strike in 2008, and three years ago, janitors voted to authorize a strike but made a deal to avert it at the last minute. This time around, both the security officers and janitors are working together. That partnership "is very unusual," Payne says. "We're really excited to have both sets of workers who work in the same buildings and sometimes for the same companies coming together."
SEIU approached Rogue Citizen this fall about an event, and as bargaining soured, they started scaling up plans. Most of the work on display tonight -- much of which is also on sale -- will be two-dimensional original art, but the offerings also span an installation and several videos, and Occupy Homes will be there with activist Becky Dernbach's children's book, Fannie and Freddie. "Not all of the art is necessarily social or political or labor related," Wells says, "though much of it is."
"It's as much about public awareness as anything," Wells continues. "It's going to be a lot of fun, and an opportunity to meet some of the artists and musician. A lot of the people in art and music are also people who are involved in activism."
"Exit Metropolis" by Dalsen (of Rogue Citizen). Original painting on sale in the show.
IF YOU GO:
MNworks: Toki Wright, Mankwe Ndosi, Sean Anon, Rogue Citizen
Bedlam Community Design Center
2714 East 27th Street
6 p.m. to 12 a.m. Friday, February 1
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