PHILADELPHIA-With the contract deadline fast-approaching, more than 800 commercial office cleaners—members of 32BJ SEIU—today voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if no agreement is reached by the Thursday contract expiration.
“Our goal is to reach an amicable agreement and avoid a strike. Nearly every office building in the city would be affected by a strike. It would be a big mess for the city,” said Daisy Cruz, Mid-Atlantic District Director of 32BJ SEIU.
Contract talks between the 32BJ SEIU bargaining committee and the Building Operators Labor Relations, Inc. (BOLR) have been ongoing since September 3. Despite strong profits for the commercial real estate industry, BOLR has called for unprecedented cuts to the cleaners’ health benefits and pensions, potentially decimating the benefits that make these jobs family-sustaining.
“We’re only trying to maintain our healthcare, pensions and basic needs. Groceries and other expenses continue to go up while our pay remains the same. We’re not asking for much, just to maintain our basic needs,” said Audra Traynham, a cleaner in University City and member of the 32BJ bargaining committee.
The average Center City office cleaner makes around $16 an hour, far below the living wage of $23.39 an hour for one adult supporting one child in the city of Philadelphia, according to MIT.
“The real estate industry in Philly is doing very well. They can afford to pay these cleaners a living wage and reasonable benefits. There is no reason that building owners and contractors making huge profits should be coming after the healthcare and retirement of hard-working janitors,” added Cruz.
Should the cleaners and employers fail to come to an agreement by Thursday at midnight, the cleaners may go on strike effecting 168 office buildings across Center City including the Comcast Center, Wells Fargo Plaza and Philadelphia City Hall.
“We maintain these buildings and take pride in our work. Many of have been at our buildings for decades,” said Barry Williams, cleaner and bargaining committee member. By not reaching an agreement on Thursday, the building owners are hurting themselves and our city. “
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.