Union, Janitors, Picket Park Meadows Mall

    In the concrete wilderness of brand-name storefronts and meticulous landscaping, members and supporters of the local Service Employees International Union (SEIU) gave up their Saturday afternoon to picket the Millard Group, a company which provides janitorial services for the Park Meadows Shopping Center south of Denver.

    The protest, which took place Aug. 25, was held in an effort to pressure the Millard Group into excepting a labor union organized by janitors who clean the mall. Donning purple T-shirts, the group of approximately 45 people gathered along an intersection located next to Interstate-25 near the shopping center. A few supporters delivered flyers to passing cars, while the majority of picketers marched around the area and shouted chants. (Millard, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!)

    Janitors allege that the company has been strongly opposed to the union, and that they fear for the future of their jobs.

    “They tried to buy us out by giving us raises. They gave a three dollar raise.” said one worker identified only as Maria. “So we don’t have health insurance and they could take this raise away anytime.”

    According to employees, Millard has raised hourly wages from 7 dollars to 10 dollars in the past year. But another janitor identified only as Lupe, said that the raise still doesn’t buy job security.

    “[Bosses] said if we signed a union contract we’d have problems,” she said, while she noted that she is fearful of retaliation because of union support.

    It took only thirty minutes of picketing before mall security and law enforcement officials made an appearance to request that protesters keep off the grass and remain on the sidewalk, the only space that qualified as public property. Participants abided by the command and subsequently organized a single line of purple.

    Rev. Daniel Klawitter, with the United Methodist Church, also made an appearance to picket and support what he considers a social justice issue.

    “When I heard that workers were being harassed…that was what inspired me to come out,” said Klawitter, who also explained that his congregation supports workers forming unions without intimidation.

    SEIU filed legal complaints last week against the Millard Group and Park Meadows owner General Growth Properties, Inc., alleging illegal tactics and intimidation.

    At press time, the Millard Group had not returned a request for comment.

    Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.