Janitors at Target, Best Buy claim they were forced to work 7 days a week with no overtime

Big retailers often contract out their janitorial work, meaning they aren't directly involved in staffing the workers that keep stores clean.

But a report released earlier this week alleges that some of the janitors who clean Target, Best Buy, and Kmart stores have been treated like modern day slaves.

The Center of Workers United in Struggle wrote "A Dirty Business: Worker Exploitation in Minnesota's Janitorial Industry." According to the report, janitorial workers for Tampa-based Diversified Maintenance Systems, a nationwide janitorial company that employs more than 7,500 workers, haven't been paid overtime, occasionally work seven days a week, and in some cases have even been forced to pay managers a "deposit" to get hired.

The report was unveiled during a Wednesday news conference in front of the Minneapolis Kmart near Lake and Nicollet. During the conference, which featured the plaintiffs and their attorney, some janitors who used to work for Diversified said they are owed thousands in back pay. They said Diversified management threatened to fire them if they balked at requests to work unpaid overtime. Some workers said they worked as much as 80 hours a week.

Last fall, a group of a dozen Twin Cities janitors sued Diversified for not paying overtime. Diversified, which has been sued a number of times over working conditions, denies the allegations. Two more plaintiffs have recently joined the suit, and their attorney told the crowd on Wednesday that he hopes to get the case certified as a class action.

Phillip Russell, an attorney for Diversified, told the Star Tribune the company is "vehemently denying their case and we will do so in court." He said the Wednesday news conference was "disappointing."

"It's not a very professional law to litigate a case," Russell said.

Of course, it isn't surprising that janitorial workers, most of whom are immigrants who may not understand their rights, get exploited. As an Uptake report points out, labor is the largest and most costly expense for cleaning companies, so businesses like Diversified need to keep labor costs down in order to win contracts with stores like Best Buy and Target.

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