Building the Union & Organizing for Strength
Our union began with a bang in 1934, when building service workers formed 32-B. In those days, elevator operators were in charge of what some called “vertical transportation.” Manhattan’s skyscrapers were largely inaccessible without the men who made the elevators go. But even by the standards of the Great Depression, building service workers’ wages were low and their treatment was lousy. Workers formed our union for the same reason workers always form unions: because banding together is the only way to make jobs better.
Our union has always been about workers coming together to build the collective strength to challenge the status quo and demand that all workers – regardless of race, gender, religion or nationality – are treated with the same respect that every person deserves. Organizing is 32BJ’s lifeblood. Collective strength comes from growing the collective.
The Union is Formed
Building service workers formed 32-B in April 1934 and went on strike in November. Our first victory came within months, when the strike that encompassed about 400 buildings in midtown Manhattan’s garment district ended with workers winning union rights and thousands of new members joining 32-B.
Raising Standards in New York
In March 1936, workers went on strike again to push for better treatment and pay. Within two years, we had come onto the scene in New York and raised standards in our industry under the leadership of James Bambrick and Thomas Young, our founding president and vice president.
Our 6-day strike in September 1945 pretty much shut New York City down. Reports are that about 1.5 million fellow New Yorkers would not cross the picket lines, nor would they climb the stairs (office building elevators could not run without an operator). The strike ended with a 10-year peace agreement and an all-important anti-discrimination policy.
Justice for Janitors
In the mid-1980s, the Justice for Janitors campaign got its name in Pittsburgh and spread across the country to Los Angeles, Houston, Miami and many other cities. The campaign developed a successful strategy that targeted cleaning sub-contractors that had been driving down conditions in the office-cleaning industry and wreaking havoc with working people’s lives. The campaign ultimately helped tens of thousands of office cleaners win union representation and establish decent standards in the industry.
In the 2000s, 32BJ organized 13,000 office cleaners in New Jersey and northern Virginia. We created a security division and helped 10,000 security officers from Boston to Washington, D.C. and west to Pittsburgh to join our union.
Airport Workers Rising
In 2016, our campaign to help airport workers win the fight to join our union and improve conditions on the job had a big lift when 8,000 workers in New York and New Jersey airports won their first contract.
Serving Up Justice
The Fight for $15 first started in New York City as a campaign of fast-food workers to raise standards and win union representation. The Fight for $15 is now a national movement that has won raises for MILLIONS of low-wage workers in cities and states across the country, even as workers continue to fight for union representation and the power that comes from having a say on the job.
We have fought for and WON vital legislation across the five boroughs that empowers frontline fast-food workers to demand stable, full-time hours and protect themselves against arbitrary cuts to their weekly schedules and even termination.