WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — In a packed meeting hall at the Westchester County Center, hundreds of superintendents, porters, handypersons and other residential building workers from all over the Hudson Valley raised “Yes!” cards high and their voices higher to authorize a strike if a fair agreement on a new contract is not reached by September 30. The contract is an agreement between the workers’ union, 32BJ SEIU, and the employers and building owners that provides for family health insurance, retirement, fair wages and basic rights on the job.
Since August 15, a committee of elected workers and 32BJ officers has been bargaining with representatives of the Building and Realty Institute of Westchester and the Mid-Hudson Region Inc. (BRI), but talks have failed to move forward. If the union calls a strike, it would be the first strike in more than 30 years for the 1,400 residential building workers at 500 apartment buildings, co-ops and condominiums across the region.
“We will stand strong for all the things that make it possible to live and work in the expensive Hudson Valley: affordable health care, retirement security, and a sensible raise so our families can keep up with the cost of living,” said 32BJ President Hector Figueroa to the enthusiastic crowd.
“Our jobs demand stability,” said Eric Thompson, a superintendent in Mt. Kisco and member of the bargaining committee. “Those of us who’ve been around know that the most common element that can end your stability is a sickness or injury. My wife had to face months of cancer treatment recently, and I had to take medication that would have ruined us financially. The benefits we have allowed me to continue on the job providing service to all the residents of my building. They’re essential for our families and the well-being of our communities.”
Local elected officials and officers from supportive labor organizations joined the members of 32BJ, who turned out in such large numbers that a second room had to be opened to accommodate the overflow.
“Your work is vital for the well being of one of the densest suburban areas in the United States, to keep our economy thriving and our communities close-knit,” Westchester County Executive George Latimer said. “You help your tenants 24/7, and I am here to say that the County stands behind you as seek to negotiate a fair contract.”
“I support your fight for a fair contract,” echoed New York State Shelley Mayer, who represents Yonkers. “The work you do is vital for the wellbeing of Yonkers, of White Plains, of New Rochelle, Mount Vernon, in Scarsdale and Hartsdale, all across this region. I am here to say that I and other elected officials in the Hudson Valley will never take the importance of collective bargaining for granted and stand with you in this fight.”
“Residential building workers provide a vital service to a hundred thousand residents in the Hudson Valley,” said Tom Carey, President of the Westchester-Putnam Central Labor Body. “Hudson Valley labor supports your fight for a fair contract, and if you are forced to strike, you can count on us for solidarity.”
With more than 145,000 members in 11 states and Washington DC, including 4,000 members in the Hudson Valley, 32BJ is the largest building service workers union in the country.