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Pittsburgh – Elected officials, faith leaders, and allies stood shoulder to shoulder this morning with dozens of commercial office cleaners as they opened contract negotiations. The more than 1,000 workers covered under the contract – members of 32BJ SEIU – are bargaining with representatives of commercial cleaning contractors from the commercial real estate industry.
More than 600 workers clean iconic buildings in downtown Pittsburgh like the U.S. Steel Tower, Gateway Center and PPG Place. Nearly 500 work in office parks and other sites throughout the city and Allegheny County including the Bayer headquarters and Bakery Square.
Commercial office cleaners have a deep history in Pittsburgh’s 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. Current cleaners working downtown make on average $16.32 an hour. Those outside of Pittsburgh’s Central Business District (CBD) make from $11.25 to $12.85 an hour.
“Cleaners in Pittsburgh have come too far to turn back now. We stand on the shoulders of the cleaners that were a part of the Justice for Janitors campaign in 1985,” said Stephanie Knupsky, a suburban commercial office cleaner. “We need to make sure the cleaners in the suburbs make the same family-sustaining wages as those of us who work downtown.”
Four years ago, the country was in a recession. Since that time, vacancy rates in Pittsburgh’s most desirable buildings are among the lowest in the country. Businesses are also thriving with over $2.3 billion in capital investment last year.
“We’ve seen the region’s growth from downtown to the suburbs. But, the wealth needs to trickle down from the contractors to the people who work hard to clean these buildings. They want the best for their communities and this city, but that can’t happen when they make less than $12 an hour,” said Sam Williamson, Western Pennsylvania Area Director 32BJ SEIU.
“Our City did not get to this turning point alone. It is through a strong relationship with our partners, like 32BJ SEIU, that we have made this City a great place to live for everyone,” said Kevin Acklin, chief of staff for Mayor Bill Peduto. “We want to encourage all parties at the bargaining table to do business the Pittsburgh way, by reaching a FAIR contract agreement so the service jobs that these workers have fought so hard for stay good jobs.”
Among the contract gains 32BJ representatives are seeking are an increase in family-sustaining wages and the continuation of comprehensive health benefits for its downtown cleaners. For cleaners working outside of the Central Business District, the goal is to raise the wage to $15 an hour. The current 32BJ contract expires midnight October 31.
For the next 18 months, close to 135,000 SEIU janitors across the nation will be negotiating contracts, 75,000 are 32BJ SEIU members along the East Coast.
With 145,000 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.