January 4, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
Talks between 32BJ and the Realty Advisory Board went down to the wire, but both sides were able to sign an agreement early Saturday morning, December 31. A 32BJ spokesman said there were a couple of occasions during a 48-hour period where the union was about to break off negotiations because the board wouldn’t budge, but the union stood firm and resisted the board’s multiple demands, capping off a three-month round of negotiations.
The spokesman explained, in addition to fending off the company’s insistence for a two-tier wage system and removing political check off, the union was able to secure meaningful benefit increases.
The tentative agreement, pending membership approval, calls for bonuses of $600 and $500 in the first two years for cleaners and porters, respectively, and weekly wage increases of $13, $18 and $20 starting next year through 2015, netting an hourly wage of $22.97, $23.42 and $23.92, respectively, or a 5.6 percent increase over three years.
In addition to the contributions employers already make to members’ health care benefits, the new agreement calls for the RAB to increase contributions of $11 per week per member in the first two years, and then $15 per week in the next two years.
“These increases are fairly significant. By the end of the contract, employers will be contributing more than $15,000 towards health care per year, per member,” said the spokesman.
And on pensions, contributions will rise by $4 per member per year through 2015.
The spokesman said the union is happy about the agreement, but emphasized that the real value of the contract has to be measured in terms of the union’s ability to throw back the company’s demands to create a two-tier wage system, elimination of pension benefits for new hires and cutting sick days, holidays and vacation time.
Because the union stood firm, new hires, rather than starting out at lower pay, will progress to the maximum wage rate by earning 75 percent of the new rate for the first 21 months, then 85 percent for the next 21 months, and 100 percent 42 months after their date of hire. Other improvements reached in the agreement calls for greater job security and advancement opportunities, safer workplaces and stronger communities (whereby the union and the industry will work together to promote economic development and good jobs in NYC).
The RAB’s demand to eliminate political check off took the union by surprise, said the spokesman. “They believe we are very politically effective, and therefore undermining their own political agenda. Well, we are politically effective and we were not about to give that back.”
One way the union succeeds politically is by building political allies. “We are very much about shoring up wage standards not just for our members, but for the entire City. There are sympathetic ears in different levels of government to our agenda.”
The spokesman also stressed that, counter to the growing chorus in 2011 that unions are counterproductive to economic growth, “The union is not anti-business or anti-development, but we insist that as the city develops and government spends money, it needs to make sure that the jobs created are not poverty jobs.”
The spokesman also hopes that the agreements 32BJ reached doesn’t go unnoticed around the country as he mentioned that lots of unions are being forced to accept contracts with concessions, imposing a rollback in standards that have allowed working people to maintain a foothold in the middle class post-World War II.
New York City’s commercial real estate industry was the last holdout as the union negotiated five industry-wide contracts for commercial cleaners in the past three months. Each time, according to the spokesman, building management in the different regions said, ‘Everybody in the country is accepting zeros, cutbacks and increases in health care contributions.’
“But each time, we succeeded in telling management that that approach is not good for our members and it’s not good for you in the long run. We broke through and blocked the two-tier wage demand and got meaningful increases.”