23,000 NYC Janitors Could Walk Off Job

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32bj strike rally

Commercial Cleaners’ Contract Expires December 31. They Will Strike if Negotiations Fail.

NEW YORK-With the contract deadline fast-approaching, commercial cleaners—members of 32BJ SEIU— voted to strike if no agreement is reached by the December 31st contract expiration.

“We are not going to accept anything less than a fair deal that protects health care and retirement benefits and includes a raise that enables our members to continue to raise their families in New York City,” said 32BJ President Hector Figueroa. “And we are not going to accept any deal that creates a permanent two-tier system that condemns new workers to lower pay and benefits for their whole career. We won’t let our union be divided.”

After the strike vote, thousands of cleaners and other supportive union members marched through Midtown Manhattan and rallied on Park Avenue to send a clear message to their employers that they are united in the fight for good jobs.

Contract talks between the 32BJ SEIU bargaining committee, representing 23,000 union members, and the Realty Advisory Board have been ongoing since November.

Despite strong profits for the commercial real estate industry, the RAB has called for permanent cuts to new workers benefits and pay, potentially decimating these good jobs that have enabled janitors to support their families and their communities in New York City.  They have also proposed increasing the workload for cleaners but have not proposed any pay increases.

“The 2.5 million members of the New York State AFL-CIO stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters of 32BJ in their fight for fairness,” said Mario Cilento, President of the New York State AFL-CIO. “The cleaning work being done by these dedicated men and women plays a key role in the success of the New York City real estate industry. These hard-working working men and women deserve a fair contract and will have the full resources of the NYS AFL-CIO at their disposal until such an agreement is reached.”

Members of the bargaining committee said they would not agree to these demands, which would set janitors on a race to the bottom.

“We’re not going to give up the good jobs we have fought for over the years and let new workers get stuck with second-rate pay and benefits,” said Juliana Peters, a cleaner at 555 West 57th Street and member of the 32BJ bargaining committee. “Future janitors will be doing the same work we do and will need to be able to feed their families, pay the rent and take their kids to the doctor. We have to maintain these good jobs and we’re ready to strike for them.”

With a strong commercial real estate industry with low vacancies and sky-high rents, cleaners at the bargaining table are calling for a new 4-year contract that protects their hard-fought health care and pension benefits and includes raises that ensure they can keep raising their families in New York City.

“Our demands are to get a fair wage increase and to protect our rights on the job,” said bargaining committee member and office cleaner Bedri Mulaj, who works at 666 5th Ave. “We help make some of the most iconic buildings in New York clean and welcoming and we want a contract that recognizes our contributions and enables us to keep up with the rising cost of everything. We don’t want to go on strike, but we will do it to protect our families.”

Four years ago when cleaners negotiated their last contract, the country was in a recession. Since that time, vacancy rates in New York’s office buildings have dropped almost back to their pre-recession levels while rents have climbed even higher than the pre-recession mark.

Should the cleaners and building owners and contractors fail to come to an agreement by December 31, the cleaners may go on strike,affecting more than 1,300 buildings in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn, including Rockefeller Center, Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, the Chrysler Building, Met Life, the Empire State Building, and 1 World Trade.

Elected officials including Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and members of the City Council joined the cleaners to show their support.

Support from Elected Officials & Leaders

“The hardworking members of 32BJ are the backbone of this city, and they contribute every day to our growing city economy, “ said Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “The 23,000 workers who clean commercial buildings in New York deserve wages and benefits that will allow them to take care of their families, keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table.”

“One look at our skyline tells you how important 32BJ’s members are. Cleaners and building service workers are the backbone of our city, providing essential services in our business districts’ commercial office buildings,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer.  “These jobs have been, and should continue to be, a pathway for stability and growth with wages and benefits that secure the future of these working families.  32BJ members deserve dignity, respect, and a fair contract.”

“32B-J knows what a good deal looks like, and they are not going to back down until they get one,” said New York City Council Member Dan Garodnick. “Thousands of workers are at the bargaining table right now, and the middle class jobs at stake are key to keeping this city strong.”

“Cleaners are instrumental to our city’s economy and they deserve job security, fair pay and decent benefits,” said Council Member Corey Johnson. “The rapidly growing cost of living in our city demands that wages keep pace, particularly when commercial real estate profits are at record highs. I stand with the members of 32BJ and call on the Realty Advisory Board to negotiate in good faith.”

“The 32BJ office cleaners are some of the hardest working people in this city and they deserve fair pay for hard work,” said New York City Council Member Ben Kallos. “As development booms in New York City, we owe it to our building workers to pay them a fair share.”

“The 2.5 million members of the New York State AFL-CIO stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters of 32BJ in their fight for fairness,” said Mario Cilento, President of the New York State AFL-CIO. “The cleaning work being done by these dedicated men and women plays a key role in the success of the New York City real estate industry. These hard-working working men and women deserve a fair contract and will have the full resources of the NYS AFL-CIO at their disposal until such an agreement is reached.”

“32BJ SEIU building service workers are the best in the business, and any contract brought to the table must reflect their skill, dedication, and professionalism,” said Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO.  “The fight for good jobs is our collective fight, and the NYC Central Labor Council will continue to stand with these and all workers fighting for good jobs, affordably priced housing, good benefits, and a voice at work.

With 145,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C., including 70,000 in New York City, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.