Over 1,000 office janitors from across New York City rallied in Bryant Park on June 15 to launch their campaign for a new union contract. With the city’s commercial real estate sector struggling against a record high in office vacancies, union leaders are bracing themselves for what could be a tug-of-war for wages and health benefits.

32BJ leaders, the City Council Speaker and state Attorney General addressed a fiery group of janitorial workers ahead of the negotiations for their next four-year labor agreement, which will begin in the fall. The contract, which expires December 31, covers 20,000 office cleaners and over 1,300 buildings across the city.

While wages and benefits are perennial points of negotiation for the union, the economic climate could potentially make it a tense fight.

“Most of the times when we’ve gone into bargaining we haven’t faced the same kind of challenging macroeconomic issues. So I think that’s gonna color the whole negotiations,” said Denis Johnston, 32BJ executive vice president and director of the NYC Commercial Division.

The union is looking to account for recent inflation in its wage agreements and counter any attempts to diminish health benefits.

“Every time we go to the table, building owners bring the demand that we pay for a part of our healthcare. We’ve always had this comprehensive health insurance and we think that this is vital for our members’ wellbeing,” Johnston said.

The rally and launch of the campaign coincided with the 32BJ SEIU’s Justice for Janitor’s Day, a commemoration of the successful 1990 janitor strike in Los Angeles that served as a roadmap for the union in years to follow.

“On this day 33 years ago, janitors came together to demand justice, a living wage, and better working conditions for themselves and future generations to come,” said City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. “Their solidarity prevailed, and because of their courage, we continue to reap the benefits of their hard-fought victory. “

In addition to the city Council leadership, the rally brought out Attorney General Letitia James, a union ally who has used her post as the state’s top prosecutor to push for labor priorities.

“All of us need to be there for you right now. We need to make sure you get quality health benefits, dignity and respect,” James said.

The rally was closed out by Yenny Hernandez, one of the union’s strike captains, who exhorted her fellow members to build a network of communication now in order to prepare for a potential strike.

“We are in a fight and we need to be ready for anything. But we have time to prepare. So far we have taken hundreds of forums to show that we are mobilizing,” Hernandez said. “Now is the time to think about what you will need to be ready if we are on a strike January 1st.”


1 thought on “32BJ janitors launch contract campaign amidst record office vacancies”

  1. ORGANIZE ORGANIZE ORGANIZE and ORGANIZE. The– force– of– right organizing is what keeps the spirit of the workers afloat. While it’s true that the macroeconomic influences all businesses, communities etc. It’s also true that the congruent of economic weapons[Ie.,”runaway shop”(booo !)] used by the cleverness of the anti-union entities, must not go unnoticed ! ie., Organize labor must not feel myopic towards economic weapons!



    ORGANIZE and ORGANIZE is the American way 100% – I’m proud of these acute and realistic organizers and workers, that know the meaning of : Don’t talk the talk unless you can walk the walk[*without strong picket lines/ rallies/ strikes etc. the delineate of organize labor will weaken]. – Keep the fight going ! And don’t delete this message!

    Hamilton Pagan
    LiUNA strong and clean
    Cement and Concrete Workers Local Union # 20

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