Boston, MA– Commercial office cleaners opened contract negotiations today for one of the largest private sector contracts in New England. The more than 13,000 workers covered under the contract – members of 32BJ SEIU District 615– who clean and maintain almost 2,000 buildings, are bargaining with representatives of the Maintenance Contractors of New England.
These workers clean iconic office buildings in Boston including the John Hancock, Prudential Tower, Vertex and Biogen buildings, and give support to pharmaceutical companies, finance, tech, transportation and higher education – key pillars of the Massachusetts economy. The mostly immigrant workforce has a long history of fighting for good jobs in the area.
With a strong commercial real estate industry enjoying low vacancies and sky-high rents, cleaners at the bargaining table are calling for a new contract that expands opportunities for full-time employment and ensures raises that keep up with the cost of living in one of the most expensive metro areas in the country.
“We are proud of the work we do to keep Boston running,” said Santiago Brito, who cleans in the Financial District. “It shouldn’t be a luxury when you work full-time to be able to pay rent and bills, or help send your kids to college.”
Four years ago when cleaners negotiated their last contract, the country was in a recession. Since that time, vacancy rates in Boston’s office buildings have dropped almost back to their pre-recession levels while rents have climbed even higher than pre-recession levels.
“The Boston office market is booming,” said 32BJ Vice President Roxana Rivera. “But for too many hardworking men and women, making ends meet is still a challenge. While our economy overall has rebounded, we need to ensure that strength is reflected in the jobs and wages of working people. We need to create a pathway to full-time jobs for commercial cleaners who are a big part of why the Boston office space is one of the most desirable in the world.”
“The 13,000 janitorial members of SEIU32BJ-District 615 do important and often overlooked work that keeps the City of Boston running. They are our neighbors, our friends and our relatives who often work multiple jobs and long hours to support their families and give back to their community. I am proud to stand with them today and everyday as we continue to strive for the quality pay and benefits that some of our most valuable workers deserve,” said Boston City Council President, Michelle Wu.
The janitors’ proposals also include expanding employer-paid health care to family members for full-time workers and a wage increase that will keep up with the rising cost of supporting their families. With a market that is still primarily part-time the janitors are demanding a path to much needed full-time jobs. Far too often employers deliberately part-time what could be decent jobs 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. By shirking their obligations to contribute to their workers’ health care, employers also pass on hundreds of millions of dollars onto taxpayers through Medicaid spending and other social support services.
Massachusetts and the Greater Boston area are thriving. Multinational pharmaceutical companies continue to expand, world-class higher education institutions keep attracting top students, and consolidated cutting-edge tech companies show the world that Massachusetts is the place to invest. Boston, a city of wealth and innovation – a boomtown – 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. The income gap continues to grow in Boston, making it the most unequal city in America. And without good paying union jobs the gap will become as chasm.
The promise of America is for everyone, including the thousands men and women who clean and maintain office buildings and college campuses in MA and RI. We are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers; we are neighbors and community members. Many of us are immigrants from around the world and the vast majority of us lives and works in urban centers. We are building America and driving the economies of its cities. Hard working Americans like us deserve to make more than a decent living – we deserve a decent life.
The current commercial cleaning contract expires on September 30.
With 155,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C., including 18,000 in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, 32BJ is the largest property service workers union in the country.