NYC building cleaners fight against contract cuts, threatening potential strike
A workforce of approximately 20,000 essential cleaners say they stood as front-line heroes during the pandemic and are now at the forefront of a new battle. New York City essential cleaners are vehemently opposing proposed cuts in their contracts, warning that if implemented, life in the city would become untenable.
"We need our health care; we need it," said Salvador Ramirez, a lobby porter and member of local union 32BJ SEIU.
Ramirez has worked out of the Google building as a porter in lower Manhattan for 15 years and says he’s not happy with the proposed contract cuts. "We prepared these buildings for these people to come back, and we're not giving anything up," said Ramirez.
The proposed cuts, he noted, would impact not only him but also the entire workforce of 20,000 cleaners spread across buildings citywide. The workforce has already suffered job losses due to some employers adopting remote work models.
“What we’re fighting for with these building owners and cleaning contractors is a fair wage increase so we can pay our bills and deal with the rising cost of everything from rent to child care to transportation. We're also fighting to protect our health care,” said Manny Pastreich, president of Local 32BJ.
Pastreich said the responsibilities of its members are diverse, from cleaning transportation hubs to iconic landmarks like the Empire State Building and college campuses like NYU. Their current four-year contract is set to expire at the end of the month on Dec. 31.
Members have been rallying against the Realty Advisory Board, responsible for negotiating contracts for thousands of city building workers. News 12 reached out to the board, and a spokesperson provided a fact sheet that in part said, “Local 32BJ’s workers are among the highest paid, enjoying comprehensive benefits with an increase of 2.93% The Real estate industry and 32BJ support 72,000+ jobs facing challenges since 2019 with declining rents and high vacancy rates.”
Pastreich emphasized that the industry needs to figure out how to bring back the real estate market in the city but said it cannot be at the expense of cleaners.
“Seven-thousand of our members were laid off through the pandemic, over a thousand were laid off for two years waiting for the industry to come back. As the industry has come back, now is the time that our members need a fair wage,” said Pastreich.
For Ramirez, he said he and others are willing to strike if a fair contract is not secured. "A lot of my union members died in COVID, died in general for what we have now, and we're not going to give up for less," said Ramirez.
As negotiations intensify, workers are continuing to warn of a potential strike, raising concerns about compromised cleanliness and safety in buildings crucial to our daily lives.