Building Service Workers’ Union Authorizes Strike, As Contract for 20,000 Workers Expires 12/31

Labor discontent is growing in Manhattan, with commercial office cleaners in the 32BJ Service Employees International Union authorizing a strike vote on Dec. 20. After all, the clock is ticking down their current contract agreement, which expires on Dec. 31. Mayor Eric Adams and City Comptroller Brad Lander spoke at a raucous 32BJ rally on 6th Ave.

| 02 Jan 2024 | 04:51

If negotiations with building owners can’t reach a consensus point, a union representing 20,00 NYC commercial building service workers is threatening to walk off the job next year. 32BJ SEIU’s current contract expires on Dec. 31, and both parties remain far apart on issues including wage hikes and healthcare. On Dec. 20, following a rally that union organizers said drew 10,000 people, rank-and-file workers authorized a strike.

Union members marched up 6th Avenue to Rockefeller Center, where the rally was held, at around 3 p.m. As a band played funk and soul tunes, many of the union members held up placards urging a “yes” vote on the strike authorization proposal, which ultimately passed overwhelmingly.

Mayor Eric Adams was among the politicos who turned up and gave a speech. “We are saying to the Realty Advisory Board...let’s get it right, let’s do what’s right, let’s give 32BJ SEIU a standing-together fair contract,” he said.

“You keep Grand Central clean. That’s why we must make sure that you can have a clean life too, and prosperity,” Adams proclaimed. “You keep 1 Vanderbilt clean, you’re #1 in the city!”

Manny Pastreich, 32BJ SEIU’s president, told Straus News that the union wants “a fair wage increase to deal with inflation, so people can deal with the rising cost of rent and everything else.” He added that the union is pushing back against any hike in healthcare premiums.

Pastreich emphasized that the two sides are “pretty far apart,” and that union members were also against management proposals such as the creation of a two-tiered wage system. That would “divide our folks,” he said.

“Now is the time for us to show the owners and contractors that we are ready to fight,” Pastriech later told the assembled crowd. “We are going to make damn sure these contractors can’t attack our jobs! We have been at the negotiation table but have made zero progress.”

One rank-and-file member, Godwin Dillon, took a swipe at the Realty Advisory Board. The management group, he said, talk “about their trillions of dollars–while we’re talking about how we’re going to pay our bills.”

Labor leaders from other unions showed up at the rally to express solidarity. The Region 9A director for the United Auto Workers, Brandon Mancilla, spoke about the stability he found growing up in a 32BJ family: “We had security that immigrant families from my country, Guatemala, do not have.” He also brought up the stand-up strike that the UAW engaged in–earlier this year–against the “Big 3” autoworkers: Ford, GM, and Stellantis. “Record profits mean record contracts,” he said.

The Realty Advisory Board, when reached for comment by Straus News, said that “the RAB appreciates that union members have voted to strike, as is their legal right.” The spokesman claimed that “the current labor agreements contain healthcare provisions and unsustainable work rules that do not exist in any other major city in the country.” In other words, they confirmed that they are unlikely to cede much ground to the city’s building workers.