-Union cleaners demand to earn a piece of Pittsburgh’s ever-growing prosperity-
Pittsburgh – Negotiations opened Wednesday afternoon inside the Omni William Penn for nearly 1,500 cleaners- 32BJ SEIU members – with representatives of commercial cleaning contractors from the commercial real estate industry. While downtown and the strip district are some of the hottest commercial real estate markets in the region, cleaners are hoping to share in some of the city’s prosperity.
Many major companies are calling the Steel City home from Facebook to Apple. The tech surge is part of the attraction to the city with downtown rents up and the Strip District and Oakland commanding higher rates due to little space but high demand. The cleaners hope they will be able to get a fair agreement that will allow them to continue supporting themselves and their families.
More than 850 commercial cleaners help maintain the buildings that adorn Pittsburgh’s iconic skyline, buildings like the U.S. Steel Tower, Gateway Center, PNC Plaza and PPG Place. And an additional 600 workers clean sites throughout Allegheny County like UPMC Sports Center, the Bayer Headquarters and Southside Works.
Cleaners working in the Central Business District earn from $17.20 to $18.66 an hour with family health care, retirement benefits and paid vacation time. Those working outside earn from $13 to $14.80 an hour and employer-paid health care.
“I have two young daughters. I purchased shoes for them this month and next month they need new ones. The prices for staples like bread and milk are constantly going up. We need to be able to keep up with the increasing costs. We aren’t asking for a lot just enough to sustain and continue supporting our families and the businesses in our community,” said James Simmons, a 32BJ SEIU cleaner.
In addition to better wages and benefits, members are demanding improvements to their workloads. The cleaning contractor there, C & W Facility Services, cut the workforce by nearly 20%. With fewer people to maintain the iconic building, cleaners are struggling to keep up with the taxing workload.
“The job takes a toll on our bodies. Our membership has gone through countless surgeries due to the constant bending, throwing out trash, and vacuuming that come along with the job. With fewer people, it’s more work for those who are here. We rush to get the job done, but the quality of service isn’t what we are accustomed to providing for our tenants,” said Tommy Magana a 42-year cleaner.
Between this year and next, 134,000 cleaners across the country will bargain with their employers to protect the wages and benefits that they have fought to earn over the years. Commercial cleaners in Pittsburgh have a deep history in the labor movement. In 1985, the Justice for Janitors movement started when cleaners took a months-long stand and won against building owners looking to cut their wages. Over the years, commercial office cleaners across the country have been working to lift themselves out of poverty.
“While the prosperity and wealth are downtown, our members are the ones in East Liberty, the Hill District and North Side that are helping to build and strengthen the middle class. They are able to do that because of good union jobs. We are willing to work amicably to reach a decision that benefits all,” said Sam Williamson, 32BJ SEIU Western Pennsylvania District Leader.
The current agreement expires midnight October 31.
With 175,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C., including 22,000 in Pennsylvania, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.