New York, NY – The four-year contract covering 25,000 commercial building service workers in New York City — many of them cleaners — will expire at the end of the year and union members are concerned.
Yenny Hernandez, 47, knows what life is like without the benefits secured by a collectively bargained union contract — no health insurance, poor salaries, zero vacation days. At one point before joining 32BJ SEIU 13 years ago, Hernandez — mother of a 19-year-old Science & Tech major at Hunter College —experienced a 9-month bout of homelessness after losing her $7 an hour nonunion job.
“Everybody wants to keep the benefits package [we have],” the Bronx mom says. “That’s most important to me and the next generation [of workers].”
All 32BJ contacts have full employer-paid health insurance benefits — but healthcare costs continue to rise and employers are always looking to limit their expenses.
Mike Nelson, 65, has spent the last two decades working as a handyman at the Manhattan Mall. He says losing healthcare benefits already won at the bargaining table would be a “disaster” for him and his 32BJ co-workers.
“We want to maintain our healthcare where we don’t have pay co-payments,” the Bronx husband and father says. “The healthcare situation in America is tough.”
Nelson says he would like to continue working at least two more years before retiring and devoting more time to the New York Presbyterian Council where he serves on the advisory board.
“I feel blessed to have this job,” he says.
Hernandez still remembers meeting with late 32BJ President Héctor J. Figueroa one day prior to his shocking death on July 11, to talk about the importance of the upcoming contact negotiations.
“Hector taught us that the union is one family,” Hernandez says.
At a massive rally for commercial building workers outside Bryant Park last June, Figueroa told 32BJ members, “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.”
Hernandez says she will never forget Figueroa and is ready to help fulfill his mission.
“I am ready for a fight and to show the city that the cleaners work together and fight together,” she says.