NEW YORK, NY — With only ten days left until the contract covering more than 22,000 NYC commercial office building cleaners is set to expire, the Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council stood in support of SEIU 32BJ workers, calling for fair wage increases and a deal that respect workers and avoids poverty-level creation. Negotiations began on November 15th between 32BJ, the city’s largest private-sector union and the Realty Advisory Board (RAB), an multi-employer association representing the city’s commercial building owners, managers, and cleaning contractors.
The proposals made by the city’s major building owners attempt to roll back wage and benefit standards that working men and women depend on to support their families. In particular, their proposals establish a two-tier structure, aimed at creating a second class of workers who are paid less and get lesser benefits, while placing restrictions on the political action of union members.

The top rate for commercial office cleaners represented by 32BJ is $22.65 an hour or $47,000 annually for a full-time 40-hour worker, significantly less than the household income that independent researchers have shown is necessary to support a family of four. Indeed, raising a family in New York City on $47,000 a year is nearly impossible, yet the billion dollar real estate industry says that’s too much money.

Meanwhile, the $20 billion Manhattan commercial real estate industry has experienced its busiest third quarter in three years — with sales activity reaching $6.3 billion, according to Crain’s New York. That puts 2011 on track to be the third highest total sales year on record, surpassed only by the boom years of 2006 and 2007.

As a result of the industry’s proposals, 32BJ office cleaners and commercial building workers voted on December 1st to authorize their bargaining committee to call a strike if necessary. Failure to reach a new contract by 12:01 a.m. on January 1, 2012 could lead to a strike of more than 22,000 office cleaners at over 1,500 commercial office buildings citywide.

The Progressive Caucus stands with the workers of 32BJ:
“New York is home to some of the world’s most successful businesses and most sought-after properties,” said Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Council Member Brad Lander. “The blue collar workers who take care of those buildings and help make those businesses possible deserve to be fairly compensated. Give them a fair contract that creates good jobs, protects workers benefits and security, and shrinks inequality in New York.”

“At a time when the cost of living in New York City continues to skyrocket, we must not allow our building service workers to lose ground in their contract negotiations,” said Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “The commercial realty industry continues to turn huge profits, while workers earn wages that cannot even sustain a family of four. I join with my Progressive Caucus colleagues in demanding that the Realty Advisory Board come to the table in good faith to negotiate with 32BJ.”

“2011 has been a year of record sales for commercial real estate owners in New York City and I find it unconscionable that ultra-wealthy owners refuse to negotiate a fair wage with their union employees,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “Fortunately, SEIU 32BJ is fighting for fair wages and benefits so that workers in our city can live here and raise families here.  I am proud to stand with my colleagues from the Progressive Caucus and very proud stand with SEIU 32BJ.  Let’s get this contract done so that everyone has a very Happy New Year.”

“As the son of parents with union jobs, I understand the importance of fair wages with good benefits for hard working New Yorkers,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. “ I support SEIU 32BJ in their contract negotiations, as they fight for fair and equitable employment. I stand firmly with my colleagues in the Progress Caucus to support the union in their just cause.”

“It is time for New York City’s real estate industry to treat over 22,000 hard-working building cleaners with some dignity and respect and pay them livable wages,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm.  “We cannot allow these building owners to continue to make record profits while our working families bear the brunt of this economic crisis and flirt with poverty levels. That is simply indefensible. I am proud to stand in solidarity with our 32BJ members in their fight for family sustaining wages and the opportunity to earn an honorable living.”

“The hard working men and women who keep our City’s buildings clean deserve nothing less than a fair contract that ensures their ability to make a livable wage and provide for their families,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras. “They work hard to ensure our offices are clean and presentable. They ensure that the doors remain open for business. Instead the doors are being slammed in their faces, denying them the opportunity to better their lives and that of their families. Rolling back the wage and benefit standards that these workers have worked so hard for is unacceptable. To do so is nothing more than an attack on families – not just in New York City, but across the country. That is why I proudly stand with the members of 32BJ, to protect them from the assault on families.

“Rolling back wage and benefits standards for hard-working New Yorkers and their families in this economic climate is simply unimaginable,” said Council Member Jumaane Williams. “Even worse, these attempts coincide with the commercial real estate industry staying on track for its third highest total-sales year on record. In other words, the Realty Advisory Board is attempting to deepen this city’s income inequality gap into a canyon. That is simply unacceptable, and 32BJ has every right to keep a strike on the negotiating table.”

“I fully support 32BJ as they move forward in discussions to preserve fair and equal wages for 22,000 commercial office building cleaners in New York City,” said Council Member Letitia James. “The City’s major building owners want to leave these workers with an income that is far from functional for the average City family, while simultaneously creating a two-tier income bracket and disrupting union activity. In a time when commercial real estate is doing well city-wide, it is not fair to underpay commercial office cleaners.”



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