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Building Service Workers Ready To Strike For Their Fair Share of NYC Wealth

SEIU 32BJ members start their “Justice For Janitors” march at Rockefeller Center.

New York, NY – The union representing building service workers across the city have put wealthy owners and contractors on notice: we are coming for what we’ve earned — and we will strike to get it. 

“The building industry in booming in New York City and we have to start telling the building owners and the contractors that we have done the work; we have earned what we deserve; and we are coming for our fair share of the wealth that is here in New York,” SEIU 32BJ President Hector Figueroa told scores of rank and file members rallying outside Bryant Park on Wednesday. 

The SEIU 32BJ contract covering tens of thousands of office cleaners, maintenance workers,  security officers, doormen, porters and others doesn’t expire until December, but Figueroa said the fight for a good contract begins “here and now.” 

“And when the time comes for the contract to expire — if we don’t have a contract, we will be ready to strike,” the union leader said. “This is about our families, this is about our lives, this is about the dignity of being a worker in this union.”

Two groups of SEIU 32BJ building service workers at a pair of luxury condominiums Downtown are already on strike.

Denise White, an office cleaner for the last 35 years, told LaborPress that owners are squeezing building service workers like her. 

“They want more work for less pay,” White said. 

Asha Jackson earns less than $17 an hour working as a security officer on 50th Street. 

“We need more money — that little bit of minimum wage is not working,” Jackson told LaborPress. 

Other workers said they are struggling with rising healthcare costs and building owners increasingly hostile to organized labor. 

SEIU 32BJ President Hector Figueroa called this “The Summer of Justice.”

“As the skyline changes and you think about the greatness of the city, you cannot only think about owners and people in power,” New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer told 32BJ members. “You also have to look at the 25,000 32BJ commercial cleaners and janitors who work tirelessly and dedicated; and deserve a fair contract and fair wages.”

Wednesday’s demonstration came in conjunction with “Justice For Janitors” rallies in more than 30 cities nationwide commemorating the June 15, 1990 protest in Los Angels in which police beat a group of janitors fighting for better wages and improved working conditions. 

Stinger said the action almost 30 years ago, not only helped secure better wages and benefits and working conditions for workers back then — but “tens of thousands more today.”

“We want to make things better not just for ourselves and our families,  but every cleaner in the country,” commercial office cleaner Richard Velasquez told fellow 32BJ members. “A little dignity and respect for all the hard work that we do.”

Purple people power: 32bJ members gather outside Bryant Park.

SEIU 32BJ represents some 75,000 members working in buildings up and down the East Coast. Figueroa called out building owners operating nonunion in Orlando, Florida and urged 32BJ members to fight for those workers as well.  

“Wherever you operate in a city where 32BJ is, you have to be union and pay the union wage, health insurance, pension, benefits and the protections of a contract,” he said.

Wednesday’s action saw an estimated 3,000 building service workers marching along Sixth Avenue from Rockefeller Center and Herald Square to Bryant Park, along with another group marching from Zuccotti Park to Bowling Green. 

“We want this city and this country to be a place where everybody’s contributions — immigrants, native-born, white, black, men, women — recognize their reward,” longtime office cleaner Aminta Gonnel said. “We have the power. We know that when we fight together we win better pay, healthcare and better working conditions.”

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