Mail Delivery Workers Pledge to Honor Picket Lines.
NEWARK, N.J. – With their contract deadline quickly approaching, thousands of commercial cleaners, who are members of 32BJ SEIU, voted to authorize a strike if contract negotiations are not settled before their collective bargaining agreement expires on Dec. 31. The strike could affect over 500 office buildings and involve 7,000 office cleaners. As elected officials, community activists and clergy announced their support for the strike on Tuesday, UPS delivery workers also pledged to honor the picket lines, expanding the potential strike to Teamsters Local 469 members.
At their strike vote and rally on Tuesday, 32BJ members demanded a fair deal at the bargaining table, marched over a mile up Newark’s Broad St. and rallied with elected officials, including mayors and assemblypersons from throughout the state. Workers shut down the street during rush hour.
Since October 2019, A committee of 32BJ members representing more than 7,000 New Jersey office cleaners has been in bargaining with a group representing commercial building owners and cleaning contractors. During negotiations, employers have tried to make workers’ pay more for their quality family health insurance, a move that would make this important benefits unaffordable and endanger working families’ ability to remain part of the middle class as housing and other costs steadily increase.
“We are ready to strike,” said Ederle Vaughan, a 32BJ bargaining committee member and cleaner at Newark Prudential Center. “We know our worth in this economy and in the community and we will fight to keep our affordable health insurance and wages. As a mom living check to check, I can’t afford the health insurance they’re proposing. We know they have the money to do the right thing.”
A strike would affect more than 500 buildings in New Jersey including transportation hubs such and major shopping centers such as Newark’s Prudential Center, the PATH stations, Allergan, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Merck and Bristol Meyers-Squibb. Affected Landmark buildings include the Goldman Sachs Tower and Novartis’s 1 Health Plaza.
Leadership from the Teamsters Local 469, a union representing UPS drivers, announced the union would honor 32BJ SEIU’s picket lines, expanding the impact of the strike.
“The Teamsters Local 469 will honor 32BJ’s picket lines if they strike,” Fred Potter, President of the Teamsters Local 469 said during the strike vote. “Our members work alongside 32BJ SEIU members every day– they deliver packages in 32BJ buildings, pick up trash and more. Union members keep this state running every day, and we’re serious about a fair contract.”
As the state’s commercial real estate market is thriving, cleaners are asking to share in the prosperity their work helps create and demand a new four-year contract that increases wages, protects their vital health and retirement benefits and increases job protections.
“Thousands of janitors have made it clear today that they’re not settling for less,” Kevin Brown said, 32BJ SEIU Vice President and New Jersey State Director. “32BJ members keep over 500 buildings clean and open for business. NJ’s commercial real estate market can’t leave working people behind, not when it’s booming like this. Employers say there isn’t enough, but the data doesn’t lie. A strike is a last resort but workers are ready to strike if they need to.”
Elected officials came out in mass to support the cleaners on Tuesday, promising to stand with them and encourage commercial employers in the state to negotiate fairly.
“It’s clear that the working people of New Jersey are united in raising standards for all, not just the wealthy few,” NJ Working Families Alliance Executive Director Sue Altman said. “Today’s strike vote demonstrates just that. I stand in solidarity with the janitors who voted to go on strike, the hardworking community members who are making a true showing of power today.”
“Janitors are the most important people in a building. They ensure the building runs smooth, are often the people that know everyone, and provide clean and sanitary conditions which stops viruses and bacteria from spreading. I support the janitors and their right to go on strike if they don’t gain a fair contract,” NJ State Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake, said. “As the cost of living rises, it’s become increasingly harder for working people to make ends meet. Workers have to raise their voice and we have to lift them up in support. Like every hard working person, janitors deserve to be paid enough to create a bright future for their families.”
“This fight is important to the entire community,” Newark City Council President Mildred Crump said. “A fair contract means more stability in our community. In Newark, we welcome good union jobs that 32BJ fights for and wins. If workers need to strike to keep their healthcare and wages, then I stand in solidarity with them.”
“This is not the first time I’ve stood with 32BJ and it won’t be the last,” Jersey City Council President Rolando Lavarro said. In Jersey City, it is important now more than ever that we lift up working families. This union contract does just that. I urge the employers to do right by the workers who deserve to be a part of the real estate boom.”
Workers will return to the bargaining table and continue talks through the rest of the year.
With 175,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C., including 13,000 in New Jersey, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.