November 22, 2013

Office cleaners on strike at 295 Madison Avenue
Office cleaners on strike at 295 Madison Avenue

By Marc Bussanich 

New York, NY—Office workers with 32BJ took to the streets at 295 Madison Avenue on Wednesday because the cleaners say the builder owner hired a new cleaning contractor who in turn slashed their wages by half and eliminated their health insurance benefits. The union has filed unfair labor practice charges against the cleaning company, Novel Services Group. Watch Video

Marlin Escoto, who’s been working as an office cleaner at 295 Madison Avenue for 12 years, said a new owner purchased the building in August and then dismissed the previous cleaning contractor, Quality Building Services. The owner hired Novel Services, which in turn slashed the cleaners’ wages and health benefits.

“The second [Novel] took over the salary was cut by 53 percent. Not only that, the health benefits we’ve had for years were taken away and they’ve increased the work,” said Escoto.

Hector Figueroa, 32BJ’s president, spoke to the cleaners outside the building about how Novel Services' unfair labor practices epitomize growing income inequality in the city and the country, invoking the tale of two cities theme that Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio raised on the campaign trail.

In an interview, Figueroa said that were it not for the Displaced Worker Act the union advocated for and the City Council passed, all the workers could have been fired. The union is advocating for the act in Westchester County, which protects building workers from being fired outright when a new contractor replaces an existing contractor.

“We [helped to get] the displaced worker law passed in the City Council in 2001 and that is the only reason they offered these jobs…otherwise they would have dismissed on the street people who have been working here 20 and 30 years,” said Figueroa.

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