New York – Scores of 32BJ members, accompanied by elected officials and community members, rallied to support a crew of ten cleaners at a midtown commercial building who in two days are losing the health insurance they have had for years, even decades, after having their good wages and benefits cut by an unfair contractor.
The ten cleaners at 183 Madison Avenue, a 19-story building with many fashion tenants, saw their good salaries cut almost in half and their benefits eliminated when the building’s new owners brought in a new contractor, Premier Building Services. Workers say these changes are hurting their families terribly.
“For years, I’ve been able to support my wife and daughter with what had been a good job,” said Carmelo Vargas, who has worked at 183 Madison for 14 years. “My wife is a diabetic, and has been in the hospital twice in the past couple of months. She needs continued medical care, and with no health insurance and less money, I don’t know what we can do.”
The workers had their wages cut down well below industry standards by the contractor, which is inexperienced in cleaning commercial office buildings.
“Organizing in unions for good salaries and benefits has allowed workers like the ones at 183 Madison Avenue to buy homes, send their kids to college and get needed medical care for their families,” said Denis Johnston, Vice President of 32BJ SEIU. “We are here supporting them today because we cannot let contractors like Premier arbitrarily remove the wages and benefits these and other cleaners have worked so hard to get.”
On average, the cleaners at 183 Madison have worked at the building for 20 years.
“My co-workers and I are almost like a family, and we have good relations with the building’s tenants,” said Sadeta Hasanovic, who has worked in the building for 20 years. “We have been able to build good middle class lives because of the good salaries and benefits from our job. I was able to help my kids go to college, and have been helping my daughter pay $1000 for her student loans while she gets a job. But now we’re afraid that the plans we made will be undone, and that’s not fair.”
In addition to the support from fellow union members, who have picketed the employers every day for the past week, the workers received support from elected officials and faith leaders.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney:
“I am proud to stand with the staff at 183 Madison Avenue and 32BJ SEIU to protect these workers’ ability to pursue the American Dream.”
Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright:
“Our workforce is only as strong as its most vulnerable worker, and the team at 183 Madison is only as strong as the 10 workers who are being treated unfairly. It is unacceptable that these workers are facing cuts to salaries and benefits. These workers deserve to have their quality of life restored and elevated for their hard work and dedication.”
NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer:
“Every New Yorker deserves fair wages and benefits to support their families, but the workers at 183 Madison Avenue are getting a raw deal. We must do everything we can to support these New Yorkers and ensure their employer learns to put people before profit. I stand strong with the employees of 183 Madison Avenue and 32BJ SEIU in calling for fairer compensation and treatment going forward.”
Council member Keith Powers:
“Fair wages and benefits should not be treated as privileges. It is not sustainable when ownership dictates whether workers can provide for their families. I am proud to stand with 32BJ SEIU to fight for the rights of 183 Madison workers who deserve good pay for an honest day’s work.”
Council member Carlina Rivera:
“As the cost of living in this city continues to rise and as real estate developers and landlords rake in record profits, working class New Yorkers like the ten men and women who have worked at 183 Madison for years, and even decades, should not be expected to take on a greater share of the burden. I am calling on Premier Building Services to work with 32BJ, to come to the table with a fair offer, and find a solution so that these hardworking people can stay at their jobs while still sustaining their families.”
Rabbi Michael Feinberg, Executive Director, Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition:
“In this High Holiday season of renewal and repentance, we call on Premier Building Services to respect the rights of their building service workers at 183 Madison Avenue. The workers should kept on at their previous good wage levels, with full health and pension benefits. This is what is right, fair and just, and in accord with Jewish business ethics and the rabbinic demand to respect worker rights.”