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Building Service Workers Fill the Streets As NYC Bosses Push Major Healthcare and Wage Concessions

Members of 32BJ rally on Sixth Avenue this week.

New York, NY – The union advocating for 22,000 building service workers throughout the city and the group representing their bosses were back at the bargaining table Thursday — one day after 32BJ SEIU members voted to authorize a strike and marched up Sixth Avenue to demand a fair contract before the existing agreement expires on December 31. 

Howard Rothschild, head of the Realty Advisory Board [RAB], released a statement on December 19, characterizing negotiations with 32BJ as heading into “the homestretch.” 

“We will be meeting with 32BJ regularly to hammer out the final details of the next contract,” the RAB president added. “Together we have built the model for labor relations in the country and we are working towards an agreement by December 31st.’

Earlier this week, 7,000 32BJ office cleaners in New Jersey successfully struck a tentative deal with building contractors in the Garden State following a strike authorization and rally of their own. 

That agreement reportedly raises wages, maintains existing healthcare plans and provides “comprehensive protections against sexual harassment.”

Exploding healthcare costs and insufficient wages were forefront on the minds of 32BJ building services workers in NYC as they rallied in snowy 35-degree weather on Wednesday, December 18. 

Union leaders Kyle Bragg, Mary Kay Henry and Larry Engelstein (r to l) lead members up Sixth Avenue. 

“The employers are not being fair — all we want is a fair contract and not to lose our healthcare and to be able to live in the city that we love,” 61-year-old maintenance worker Francis Martinez told LaborPress. “We work very hard and I think we deserve to be able to stay in the city that we love.”

New York City building service workers with 32BJ presently pay no premiums or deductibles for in-network care, although they, like other working men and women, are being hammered with surprise out-of-network billing.

The building owners and operators that RAB represents, however, are pushing for premium cost sharing, in addition to a two-tier wage system that disadvantages new hires. 

“We need to strike to get our fair increase in wages and to keep our health benefits — we can’t lose those things,” a utility worker who requested anonymity told LaborPress. 

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer joined a large contingent of supportive elected officials at the Sixth Avenue march and rally, declaring that RAB building owners and operates have more than enough money to fairly compensate workers.

“I watch the books in this town; I follow the money in this town — they can pay you today,” the City of New York’s chief financial officer said. “We don’t have to go through this every time.”

Building Service workers with 32BJ SEIU insist they will strike to preserve their healthcare packages.

Rothschild issued a prior statement insisting that RAB  is seeking to reach an agreement that “fairly compensates our commercial workers” — albeit one that reflects the “economic realities the industry faces.”

“It’s not fair,’ union worker Tyeshia Flowers told LaborPress. “We are in 2019 — we have to have fair wages, fair treatment of people; people have to be able to retire in the economy that we live in. We need a better pension, 401K. You’re making way more on our backs — so, why is that fair? I don’t think it’s fair because we don’t have the money like they do. We’re not at that level — it’s all about paying the fair share.”

Union President Kyle Bragg said that together, union members have created standards for New York City building service workers — standards that allow them to raise and support families. 

“We’re going to build on that — we’re going to make sure we move forward, never back,” Bragg said. “You need to eat, you need to feed your kids, you need a roof over your head — you need to survive in a city that continues to get more and more expensive every day.”

Like Stringer, Bragg said he wants building service worker employers to “share in the wealth they are achieving in this city.”

“They’re doing well — if you look around, there are cranes everywhere,” Bragg added. “This industry is strong and it’s because of our hard work and our hard labor that they’re doing well. Is it fair that they want us to pay premiums for our healthcare? Is it fair that they want to treat new members as second class citizens?”

Demanding workers pay more for healthcare and creating wage systems that disadvantage new hires may not be fair, but they do represent standard operating procedures for any deep-pocketed entity entering into contract negotiations. 

Last fall, GM’s demands for similar concessions from its employees forced union workers to strike for more than a month.  

If 32BJ building service workers in New York City ultimately go on strike, they will have the support of several major unions including IUOE Local 94, 1199SEIU and Teamsters Joint Council 16. 

“If the employers don’t want to give you a fair contract, you have the right to go on strike and the Teamsters will be there with you all the way,” Teamsters Joint Council 16 President George Miranda told 32BJ building service workers on Wednesday. “We pick up the garbage and we also make the delivers — and make no mistake, if this does not come to a successful conclusion, 120,000 Teamsters in New York stand ready side-by-side with you to make sure you get a fair and decent contract.”

SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry called 32BJ “a model of what a union can be.” 

“Not just for our members — but for all working people,” she said. 

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