Deal boosts wages, protects benefits, and improves workplace rules for 3,000 cleaners in large commercial buildings
STAMFORD, Conn. — Four days before the expiration of their current union contract, hundreds of commercial building cleaners unanimously voted to approve a new agreement at meetings in Port Chester, NY, this morning and Stamford, CT, this afternoon. The new accord was tentatively reached at the bargaining table on Monday between the cleaners’ union, 32BJ, and a group of local cleaning contractors informally calling itself the Hudson Valley/Fairfield County Contractors Association. The agreement covers some 3,000 men and women who clean upwards of 90 % of the large commercial properties in the regions, including downtown office towers, sprawling shopping malls, secluded corporate headquarters, popular entertainment complexes, and local universities.
“This strong new contract shows what we can achieve when we speak together with one voice,” Lenore Friedlaender, Assistant to the President of 32BJ, told the standing-room only crowd at the Knights of Columbus in Port Chester. “Over the four-year course of this agreement, wages for cleaners will raise by $2.40 an hour, benefits will continue to be fully covered, and strong new language will help workers in many ways, from ensuring a quick and transparent system for filling job vacancies to protecting people from sexual harassment.”
Fairfield County cleaner Calixto Cornejo opened the meeting at the Unitarian Universalist church in Stamford by noting, “There’s one word in the accord that brings us together today – ‘tentative.’ You have the final say, which is as it should be. The bargaining committee reached this tentative accord only because you and hundreds of other union members stood together for months.”
Negotiations between 32BJ SEIU and the contractors began on October 30 and progressed slowly for weeks. Hundreds of janitors then came together with elected officials, supporting labor unions and others allies on December 12 in White Plains and December 14 in Stamford for votes that authorized a strike if necessary. Union members rallied again during a snowstorm in Stamford and engaged in public displays of solidarity at their individual worksites before an accord was finally reached on December 23.
“The agreement increases cleaners’ wages above the rate of inflation, offering a just compensation for the extremely hard work they perform day in and day out, year after year,” Ms. Friedlaender said in Port Chester. “I am proud of what we have achieved.”
In Stamford, 32BJ Connecticut District Leader Alberto Bernardez closed the unanimous ratification vote by saying, “This contract is a step toward justice for union cleaners, but our work doesn’t stop here. We’ve just won a grand victory that shows our power and our unity. Next year is a general election year, and we will continue to work for justice for all workers, whether they belong to a union or not.”
The Hudson Valley-Fairfield County settlement is one in of a series covering over 75,000 janitors on the East Coast that 32BJ has negotiated with cleaning contractors over this fall. An agreement covering 2,400 cleaners in Hartford and New Haven counties was ratified last Saturday, December 21. All the others, ranging from New York City to Northern Virginia, have now been tentatively settled or ratified.
With 175,000 members in 11 states–including 4,500 in the Hudson Valley and 5,000 in Connecticut–32BJ SEIU is the largest property services union in the country.