(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
In OSHA charges filed last week, twenty-five workers allege that they were regularly locked indoors while cleaning Target stores in the Twin Cities.
“At 11 at night, I would ring the doorbell to get let in, and then from there, we would be locked in the store all night, until 7 am when they opened the store,” said Honorio Hernandez, who cleaned Target stores for three years before leaving a year ago for other work. “I was scared that something would happen, and I wouldn’t be able to get out of the store…. But I never complained about it because I was scared that I would lose my job.” (Hernandez was interviewed in Spanish.)
Hernandez has worked for all three of the janitorial contractors named in the OSHA complaints: Carlson Building Maintenance, Prestige Maintenance USA and Diversified Maintenance Systems. Currently unemployed, Hernandez is an activist with the Minnesota labor group that organized the complaints, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha.
Reached by e-mail Wednesday, Target spokesperson Molly Snyder said the company has not been informed of an OSHA complaint. “At Target,” said Snyder, “we are committed to maintaining the highest standards of ethical business practices and we expect our vendors to do the same.” She added, “We take allegations of inappropriate working conditions seriously and complete a thorough external audit of every housekeeping vendor on an annual basis.”
While the cleaning workers are legally employed by Target’s contractors, CTUL charges that Target management has been well aware that they’re being locked inside its stores. Hernandez told The Nation that there was generally a single manager on site during his shift, and those managers were employees of Target, not of the contractors. He added that in an emergency, workers would have needed to get the manager to unlock a door and let them out of the building, and “you can’t necessarily find them very easily” within the store.
Asked whether Target has a corporate policy regarding whether workers can be locked inside its stores overnight, Snyder said, “All individuals who are in Target stores after hours receive information on Target’s standard safety protocol which includes the locations and use of clearly marked fire exits and doors, which allow them to exit the building any time.” Hernandez, like several workers who filed the OSHA charges, said he never received such information.
Phil Toomey, Prestige’s outside general counsel, declined to comment on the OSHA charges on the grounds that he had not seen them. Asked whether it is his company’s practice to lock workers inside a building during their shift, Toomey told The Nation, “It’s practice at Prestige to comply with federal and state law. They don’t own the building.” Carlson Building Maintenance and Diversified Maintenance Systems did not respond to requests for comment.
Hernandez told The Nation that none of the three contractors ever offered him an explanation for why workers were locked inside during the graveyard shift. He said he and his co-workers often discussed it, but “there were so few of us at the store, we were worried that if we spoke up, they could just fire all of us.”