Janitors For Kmart, Target, Toil In 'Modern-Day Slavery,' Labor Leader Alleges

janitors labor lawsStory updated on 5/8/2012

Janitors working at Target, Kmart, Best Buy and Walmart are toiling in such abject conditions that the worst instances of the conditions are akin to "modern-day slavery."

That's what Stephen Philion, the director of St. Cloud State's Faculty Research Group on Immigrant Workers in Minneapolis, claimed at a rally Wednesday, organized on behalf of 12 janitors who have filed suit against Diversified Maintenance Services, a Tampa, Fla.-based subcontractor. The rally was scheduled to coincide with the release of a labor rights' organization report documenting what it said was DMS' widespread exploitation of retail cleaning workers, including chronic withholding of overtime pay.

Speaking to the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune, DMS' representation denied the charges.

"We do not agree with those allegations and we have evidence to the contrary," said Diversified's lawyer, Phillip Russell, from the Tampa firm of Ogletree Deakins.

The janitors, who clean the big box retailers in Minnesota, claim DMS refuses to pay overtime wages and threatened to fire janitors who even dared to ask for overtime pay. About 40 people attended the Wednesday rally, held outside a Kmart in Minneapolis, according to the Star Tribune.

In total, DMS has contracts with 600 locations. The company is also Target's biggest janitorial services provider.

"This study sheds light on the reality faced by thousands of retail cleaning workers around the country as well as here in the twin cities," Philion reportedly said at the rally. (Correction: An earlier version of this article claimed that Philion said the paychecks of DMS workers had bounced in their last pay cycle. In fact, Philion said it was workers from the Minneapolis, Minn.-based Paquette Maintenance & Supply Company.)

According to Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (Center for Workers United in Struggle), more than $50,000 has already been recovered in back wages and other unpaid fees through a slew of trials brought in defense of Minneapolis-area janitors over the past few years. (Update: An earlier version of this article said the settlement was with DMS. In fact, DMS has never settled with janitors in a previous lawsuit, as was suggested by news reports at the time). CTUL also notes that over the last decade janitors' salaries have dropped from $10 to $11 to the current total of $7.25. The latest lawsuit of the 12 workers alleges that the janitors put in as many as 50 to 60 hours a week without pay. The workers say that they were also forced to take a "ghost name" to hide their seven-day workweek from the government.

The report catalogs a consistent policy of DMS depending on ignorance on the part of its janitors, most of whom are Latino immigrants, about their rights.

"I held two jobs because of the low wages," said Mario Colloly Torres, a former based supermarket worker who now works with CTUL, according to a story by the politically progressive news site, The Uptake. "We work in a place filled with food and yet we can barely feed our families." (Correction: Colloly Torres was formerly an employee with Carlson Building Maintenance. An earlier version of this story said he was a DMS employee, as was reported in press accounts at the time.)

Regardless, this latest DMS case is in keeping with an industry-wide problem. Carson Building Maintenance, National Floor Maintenance and Paquette Maintenance have all been caught not paying fees to their janitors. And when nine Ukrainians were brought over to the the United States last year by a pair of Ukrainian brothers doing business with Walmart and Target, they were beaten and raped. The brothers, Omelyan and Stephan Botsvynyuk, were convicted in October 2011 on racketeering and extortion charges in Federal court in Philadelphia. They face up to 20 years to life in prison, according to The Associated Press.

Not all janitors have it so bad, however. According to the New York Post, the highest-earning janitor for the school system in New York City, Queens-native Kevin Fitzgerald, made $181,000 in 2010, the last full year for which salaries were released. Base-pay salary for janitors in New York City's schools maxes out at roughly a little more than $106,000, the Post said. The high salaries for New York City school janitors are a result of a contract negotiated by the members of Local 891, which succeeded in getting its janitors favorable overtime pay models.

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Let me tell you a little something about the janitorial business-- I have been in it for 34 years. My company serves our local area and employs an average range of 15 people. We are like family and consider our clients' properties to be like a home that is well cared for. Our company atmosphere makes for happy workers, high quality service and satisfied clients. So there you have it.. a scenario that plays out perfectly for all involved... and there are thousands and thousands of moderate sized janitorial companies in the USA just like mine.

Now.. enter the big, national-based janitorial companies-- like the ones mentioned in this article. They do three things very well. 1) They lie. 2) They cheat. 3) They steal... and they do these things to both their clients and their contractors/employees. The very LAST priorities on their task list is to offer fairness and quality in ANY form. None.. period.

One thing they especially like to do is convince the heads of companies that have multiple locations across the land to cancel contracts with their local janitorial companies and then consolidate their janitorial contracting with them. The big selling point is that the client will only have write one check each month.. but that's where the good stops... completely. From that point on, it is a 100% total scam. A scam on the client and a scam on the workers. First thing they do when awarded the contract is to contact the local provider (me) with an offer to continue servicing the property.. for HALF the viable price.. which they know already will not work at all.. so we are now out of the equation. Second thing they do is to advertise to individuals in the local area to "realize the American dream".. become your own boss! And since they seek out people in dire need of income.. any income.. they then offer a franchise sub-contract to them at ONE THIRD of the viable contract price. The end result is 1) A service provider who is now an instant "business owner", but wouldn't know employment laws, liability insurance, or a broom from a ham sandwich, a lottery ticket or a nail file. And, 2) A client who suddenly finds that what they were promised in their new 5-year contract as "quality service" (from a big, flashy, national company) is, in reality, a sub-sub-sub-contracted illegal alien and her 7 year-old daughter being sent out to their property to do the work of a seasoned professional (like they show in the Powerpoint presentation during their sales pitch) -- one that may or may not even show up, depending on whether or not their cousin's car will start that day. From there, the various items on the lie-cheat-steal list go on to infinity.. but I think you get the pic. Mom & Pop had it covered just fine all along.. everyone involved got a fair shake.. but the client got greedy with their janitorial costs and suckered in by false promises.

Bottom line:: Don't ever... EVER.. buy janitorial service from a guy in a tie.

May 01 2012 at 9:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am sorry, but after a trip to the Philippines for a month, I have no pity for these people. If they are not happy and are illegals,, they can go home. My friend that I hired for the month as my tour guide (although everyone spoke English as a second language), showed me his country. I loved it. He has a regular job,,, he works 12 hours a day / 7 days a week. I came back on Jan. 10th, he has not had a day off since then. He makes $5 a day !!! He pays his share of rent, utilities and food on that. He wants to come here, but legally, and he cannot. He cannot even visit,, the USA govt. is afraid he would go underground. I used to feel for these people,, but not after seeing my friend.

May 01 2012 at 8:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


May 01 2012 at 8:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So QUIT and head for Mexico, Russia, China, North Korea,,,betcha you change your thinking really quick.

May 01 2012 at 8:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you notice...all of the complaints are put together by union or pro union organizations. Of course the unions will call it "slave" labor...since they dont get their cut ...no one should at all. And before you start glorifying unions.... try to tell some union thug/goon/leaders in NY that maybe they can do things differently.... and see how long before you are suddenly "laid off"...

May 01 2012 at 7:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A six-figure income for a janitor is ludicrous!!!!

May 01 2012 at 7:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is about sub contract companies...not the major stores them self...so are they to police their contractors?? Tell that to our US government....look at the contarctors they use for Gods sake!

May 01 2012 at 7:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Carole Ann

I'm concerned that most people reading this article seem to believe that these people shouldn't have the right to complain about very poor treatment since they don't actually work for K-Mart or Target. I'm quite aware that jobs are hard to find but I think that since there is a minium wage law in this country they shouldn't be cheated out of the wages they've earned. The reason unions were established years ago was the reason working conditions became better here then in other countries.

May 01 2012 at 7:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Carole Ann's comment

unions were needed years,and I mean YEARS ,ago.The fact that a janitor earns a six figure income( on average) shows how out of touch unions and libs.have become.You don't have to guess why New York is financially in the toilet.

May 01 2012 at 8:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I cant believe people still shop at WaLMART. They seem to screw everyone, why dont people realize this? They have turned everything over to China. Do you want China to run the US, well if you all want to keep going to WalMart then you are helping China to take over the US. These greedy people running WalMart are ruining the US. Their father would turn over in his grave if he knew his kids were doing this. Dont they have enough, GREEDY, GREEDY,GREEDY. Think about your father who was a wonderful person.

May 01 2012 at 7:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ejb2007's comment

I like Walmart. It's the only place I can afford things.

May 01 2012 at 7:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to underdoneone's comment

Actually I found that costco is great and so is walgreens (surpisingly)...I'm a recently single guy so this is hard to admit...but I watched a video online about using cupons and how a lady feeds a family of 4 for $4.00 per week...I started cuponing and I get about $300 worth of groceries per month and usually get money back without spending a dime...Also if you can't find a cupon for what you like email the company the will send you a bunch of them

May 01 2012 at 8:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

Unions are the reason most work is sent oversea's....You really think a stock boy should make 20 bucks an hour?

May 01 2012 at 7:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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