by Roxana Rivera
32BJ Vice President, District 615
Originally published in Commonwealth Magazine
The Boston office market is booming. Multinational pharmaceutical companies continue to expand, top students continue to flock to world-class higher education institutions, and cutting-edge tech companies and new start-ups show the world that Massachusetts is the place to invest. Our economy is strong, but far too many hardworking men and women in the area still struggle to make ends meet.
Boston, a city of wealth and innovation, is also the most unequal city in America. People in the top 5 percent make 18 times as much as households in the bottom 20 percent. Nearly half of all Bostonians still make less than $35,000 a year and opportunities for those at the bottom continue to slip away.
That’s why more than 15,000 office cleaners and property service workers who clean, maintain, and protect the buildings at the heart of our growing economy are fighting together for a fair contract. The janitors who clean the shiny skyscrapers downtown and the security officers who make sure students are safe in some of the most prestigious colleges in the world demand what most people take for granted: a fair wage; an opportunity to work enough hours to be able to support their families; decent health care.
In the commercial office world opportunity means having access to much needed full-time jobs – that market is primarily made up of part-time jobs. Far too often, employers deliberately part-time what could be full-time, decent jobs in order to avoid their responsibility of paying health care for their workers. When this happens, workers either lose income or take on multiple part-time jobs and spend less time with their families and in their communities. Stitching together part-time positions, one of which is usually a minimum wage job, is stressful and taxing on health, families, and communities.
People like José Reina, who for 14 years was forced to work two low-wage jobs to put food on the table, enduring long commutes and spending little time at home. Thankfully, last year José found a full-time union job where he is paid a decent wage and offered quality employer-paid health care.
This shirking of responsibility on the part of employers is not only unfair but a burden to us all. Employers pass hundreds of millions of dollars onto taxpayers through Medicaid spending and other social support services when they splice up work and create fragmented part-time jobs.
Most of us want to believe that the promise of America is for everyone. The thousands of men and women who clean, maintain, and protect office buildings and college campuses in Massachusetts and Rhode Island believe in that promise. But they know that without a fair contract that promise won’t be fulfilled, and that dream could turn into a nightmare. Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, immigrants from around the world, and hardworking old-timers. Hardworking Americans deserve to make more than a decent living – we deserve a decent life.