Guest Post: Breakthrough at Target — Workers Center Secures Responsible Contractor Agreement

Janice Fine is an Associate Professor at Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations

In an unprecedented victory, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), a Twin Cities worker center founded in 2005, has won a Responsible Contractor Policy from the Target Corporation. Target came to the table and engaged in discussion directly with store janitors after four years of activity during which CTUL released a study documenting the substandard wages and working conditions of the retail cleaning sector, organized a series of actions including a 12-day hunger strike and 3 strikes in 2013. The campaign had already resulted in a crackdown on wage theft and health and safety violations, recovery of over half a million dollars in back wages and an increase in the average wage across the labor market from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour.

As a consequence of focusing attention on substandard conditions, there was considerable industry consolidation and CTUL then pushed to institutionalize and expand on those victories as workers began demanding union representation.

Beginning in September of 2014, vendor housekeeping service agreements in Target stores will include:

  • Protecting and ensuring workers rights to collectively bargain with their employers
  • Ensuring that workers have the right to form safety committees in their workplace made up of at least 50% of workers who are designated by their co-workers
  • Ensuring that workers are not forced to work 7 days a week

The agreement with Target to hold cleaning subcontractors at its stores  to a code of conduct is extremely important because it represents an acknowledgement, for the first time, of responsibility for labor conditions in the company supply chain–even if the Target corporation is not signing janitors’ paychecks. To organize successfully to raise standards workers have to be able to reach the actors at the top of the chain who have the power and resources to change the terms and conditions of work at their subcontractors.

SEIU is now moving to organize the janitors in a cooperative membership arrangement with CTUL which is also a groundbreaking development because while unions and worker centers are working together more and more on policy issues, there are still relatively few examples of actual joint organizing.

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