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Bargaining Begins in Pittsburgh

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by Sam Williamson
Western Pennsylvania District Leader

It is an exciting time in Pittsburgh. This week we kicked off bargaining for more than 1,000 commercial office cleaners working downtown and in the suburbs. We are also negotiating contracts for more than 1,000 security officers. Winning solid contracts will improve thousands of lives and Raise America.

For the next 18 months, close to 135,000 SEIU janitors – including 75,000 32BJ commercial office cleaners – are negotiating contracts. This is one of the largest private sector contract fights taking place in the country, affecting the lives of close to a half million men, women and children. Now is the time to fight and win. Too many people are depending on us. Together, we can change the economic landscape of our communities in cities up and down the East Coast and across the country.

32BJ members work at some our most iconic buildings: the U.S. Steel Tower, Gateway Center, PPG Place, the Bayer Headquarters and Bakery Square. We deserve good pay and benefits so that we can give back to our communities and raise our families in safe neighborhoods. We are fighting for equality. The disparity in the pay between downtown and suburban cleaners is wrong. They do the same work and work similar hours, but their pay is dramatically different. That’s why workers in neighborhoods like Oakland, East Liberty and the South Side are fighting for $15 an hour.

Of course, fighting is nothing new for commercial office cleaners–especially in Pittsburgh. The Justice for Janitors movement got its start right here! In 1985, Pittsburgh janitors fought back in a months-long stand and won against building owners trying to cut their wages. That fight sparked a movement across the nation. It built a solid foundation on which the Fight for $15 now stands. We have come too far to lose all that we have gained. We can’t go back. We won’t. Too many people are depending on us to make a difference.

Things were different the last time we bargained four years ago. The economy was slowly coming out of a recession. We’re glad things are turning around. Building owners know it and so do we. Everywhere we look, we see commercial development in the city and the suburbs. 32BJ members work hard maintaining these luxurious buildings and keeping tenants happy. That’s why we are demanding building owners do what’s right and share the wealth with the hardworking women and men who deserve it.