On Wednesday Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ rallied on behalf of six union cleaners that were terminated abruptly by the new owner of a commercial office building in Midtown.
The 6 E 45th St. building, previously owned by Silk and Halpern LLC, was bought by the Sioni Group $for 27 million at the beginning of September. All the service workers that were responsible for cleaning 19 floors and keeping the place running were met with a hand-delivered termination notice on Sep. 8.
“Your group health insurance and other employee benefits, all of which have been canceled in connection with your termination of your employment, will cease effective September 8, 2023,” said the notice received by Michael Delecce, a security guard and door man that has been with the building for 19 years.
No longer covered by union insurance, medical operations will cost thousands of dollars out-of-pocket. “It hurts because I have a 12 year-old-daughter who needs major surgery for her throat, her tonsils, and her nose. And if I don’t have medical, how do I pay to get the surgery done?” Delecce, a 45-year old father, said at the rally.
“They took away all my benefits — my vision, my medical, dental,” said Vincent Gamboli whose two children enjoyed the same coverage.
Most of the workers at the building have been employed for several years, some for decades. It is likely that Sioni Group fired them because it is more expensive to employ union than non-union workers, as union contracts demand certain wage, safety and health-insurance standards.
“This is an egregious action by the new building owner,” said Local 32BJ Executive Vice President Denis Johnston. “This is just an attempt to save a little money on the backs of workers. By firing long-time incumbent workers they are undermining good jobs with good health benefits that hard-working New Yorkers depend on.”
The building’s tenants are disoriented by the disappearance of the cleaners. Khina Than works on the eleventh floor of 6 E 45th as a diamond inspector. She says her shop has taken over cleaning duties into its own hands, and that she’s now taking out the garbage and vacuuming herself.
Local 32BJ is demanding Sioni Group — which has yet to reach out to acknowledge the union’s appeal — rehire the longtime cleaners and commit to area-standard wages and benefits.
The fired cleaners started leafleting outside the building in recent days and have gathered support from workers at surrounding buildings.“The fight is to get a sit down and hopefully try to get some people’s jobs back. Obviously it’s a 50/50 shot. We’ll take a chance and go from there,” says Gamboli.