Hundreds of building-service workers rallied on Sixth Avenue and W 38th Street on Thursday demanding a fair new labor contract. Their union, 32BJ SEIU, represents 20,000 cleaners, porters, handypersons and other workers in 1,300 commercial buildings in the city. Their current agreement with the Realty Advisory Board for Labor Relations, the trade group that represents building owners, will expire Dec. 31.
“We sent a strong message to them that our members sacrificed during COVID. They were on the frontlines every single day,” said 32BJ executive vice president Denis Johnston. “We negotiated for everyone who wanted to come back to work, was able to get back to work. But now, our members need a fair contract with strong wage increases in order to continue to contribute to the city to live in this city as hardworking New Yorkers.”
The union has up to 10 bargaining sessions scheduled from now until Dec. 31. The unit also includes workers at the Empire State Building Observatory, Hudson Yards and New York University.
“We have a history over the last 25 years of successfully negotiating contracts with the Realty Advisory Board. That being said, this is one of the most challenging times that we face,” Johnston said. “Our members are not going to suffer givebacks at the bargaining table, and if the building owners come after our health care or they want us to take inferior wage increases, we will be on strike.”
Under the current contract, workers are making $29 an hour plus benefits such as health insurance, paid vacation and a retirement pension. For the next contract, 32BJ is mainly focusing on winning a wage increase to keep up with inflation, while keeping their current benefits the same.
“We don’t want too much or too little. Like I say, we’re hungry, but we’re not starving,” said porter Solomon Humphrey, one of 32BJ’s 500 strike captains. His health benefits enable him to pay for his seizure medication.
Last year, the 32,000 workers the union represents in residential buildings won a 12.5% raise over four years in their first post-pandemic contract — the biggest raise in its history, the union says. They also won a $3,000 bonus and no reductions in their medical benefits.
The union represents “a group of people who we forgot to take care of,” said state Senator Iwen Chu (D-Brooklyn). “That’s why I’m here today. It’s very crucial to make sure their needs are being heard.”