Janitors win $425,000 for being ripped off while cleaning Macy's, Herberger’s

Workers on strike outside Macy's in downtown Minneapolis.

Workers on strike outside Macy's in downtown Minneapolis.

Last year, eight janitors who clean Macy’s and Herberger’s stores kicked off a class action suit against their employer, claiming they were being abused. 

These janitors said they were promised minimum wage, but in practice earned as little as $4 or $5 an hour when they had to purchase their own cleaning supplies.

They weren’t reimbursed for the supplies, and they weren’t paid for time traveling between different stores throughout the work day, according to the lawsuit. Meal breaks were deducted from their hours even when they worked straight through those breaks in order to get the stores cleaned on time, nor were they paid overtime.  

Moreover, it  was difficult for them to prove how much they were supposed to be paid, since they weren't given pay stubs. That itself would be a violation of state law.

The janitors worked under Capital Building Services Group, a cleaning contractor based in Lake Zurich, Illinois, that provides services for 27 of the biggest department stores in Minnesota.

Capital won Macy’s and Herberger’s janitorial contracts because it was willing to offer the stores the lowest prices on labor. As a result, Capital’s subcontractors were forced to exploit their workers in order to turn a profit, the lawsuit alleged.

The suit accused companies like Macy’s and Herberger’s of benefiting “tremendously from this arrangement. Macy’s and Herberger’s get their stores cleaned for much less than it would otherwise cost to pay their own employees, legally, to do the same work. At the same time, Macy’s and Herberger’s effectively turn a blind eye to widespread violations of state and federal employment laws happening under their own roofs.”

Capital always denied abusing its workers, saying employees are responsible for recording their own time, and that paystubs are viewable online. As for the meal breaks, the janitors had all signed off on automatic deductions, Capital argued — if they didn’t understand that they wouldn’t be paid for working through the break, that was their own fault.

The janitors, represented by Minneapolis firm Nichols Kaster, settled their lawsuit against Capital Building Services on Tuesday. They won $425,000 for lost wages, plus a raft of changes to business practices.

Under the settlement, Capital promised to provide workers with cleaning supplies, and give employees paystubs every two weeks so they could check them for missing time.

Capital also has to reimburse workers for time spent traveling between stores, and appoint a corporate representative to investigate reports of missing wages.