“I have faith in the bargaining process for a new contract in the Hudson Valley,” says Maria Trejo, a member of 32BJ living in White Plains who has served on bargaining committees through two contracts. “But we have to fight; we have to motivate other members to overcome their fear and to speak out.”
“I’ve always been an optimist,” Maria explains. “I’ve had to be.”
In the early 1990s, Maria had just started begun working a school psychologist in her native Peru when her young husband, a policeman, was murdered during the height of the Shining Path guerilla war.
“My father didn’t want me to waste away as a young widow, and he encouraged me to take the chance to come to the United States, where I could begin my life again,” she says.
Resettling in the U.S. with her infant daughter, Kelly, Maria eventually remarried and gained her citizenship, but her family suffered a setback when she lost work hours during the Great Recession in 2007. After searching desperately for a new job, she was given the number of A&A Maintenance by a friend. “When I called, they asked, ‘Can you come now?’ I said, ‘I’ll be there right away!’ And I’ve been there ever since.”
A few months after she started cleaning at 700 White Plains Road in Scarsdale, A&A workers became unionized. Maria quickly became a shop steward and later volunteered with union campaigns.
“I love doing this work with the union,” she explains. “I want to help other immigrants — especially to encourage residents to get their citizenship — to help my co-workers, to serve those in the community. Now, we have to fight for ourselves, but this is part of a bigger fight for all working people. This is a fight for me, too. Like many cleaners in the Hudson Valley, I need full-time work for the benefits and solid schedule it would offer. And then there’s the pay. My husband and I helped Kelly go to college, but our younger daughter is in tenth grade and we have hopes for a better life for her, too, if we can keep up with the cost of living.”
“As a member of the bargaining committee, it seems to me that the Contractors’ Association has proposed something illogical,” Maria continues. “They want to freeze wages. They want to pay new workers $1.50 less for their first year. Instead of advancing, it would be a retreat for all of us.”
“We’re just starting the negotiating process,” she concludes. “It’s up to us to fight, and to discuss how to win among ourselves. Again, I’m always positive. Fighting hard, going out into the community, talking to other members— that’s how, si, se puede!”