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New York – More than a thousand building service workers came out to support their union brothers and sisters at 286 and 295 Madison Avenue, who struck Wednesday afternoon to protest their employers’ unfair labor practice charges.
When it took over cleaning 295 Madison Avenue, Novel Services Group slashed the cleaners’ salaries by nearly half and eliminated their health insurance and other benefits. At another nearby property, 286 Madison Avenue, 32BJ SEIU has tried to negotiate a new contract with representatives from APF Properties since the current contract expired at the end of 2011. That employer has also slashed wages and is refusing to negotiate about alternate coverage after the workers lost their health insurance.
Losing health insurance coverage has been especially hard on one of the Novel workers, Hushija Bektesevic, whose wife has been living with cancer for the last four years and counts on her husband’s insurance to cover her medication.
“I am insulted,” said Bektesevic, an office cleaner for 23 years. “My hard work deserves to be compensated with wages and benefits that allow me to support my family and care for my wife. Without insurance, the costs of her care could be up to $6,000 a month, which I cannot afford. The new cleaning company has no heart.”
“Almost overnight, the workers at 295 Madison went from making $22.97 an hour to just $12 an hour and lost other basic benefits workers everywhere should have,” said Shirley Aldebol, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, which represented the workers under the former cleaning company there.
She added, “At 286 Madison Avenue, the workers have also been disrespected. We need their employer to come back to the table with proposals that move our negotiations forward like the law requires them to do.”
Héctor Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU called for the workers at 286 and 295 Madison Avenue to strike starting today. “It is simply outrageous and unacceptable for a new contractor to cut existing employees’ salaries in half and eliminate all their benefits,” he said. “We’ve filed unfair labor practice charges against the employers at both buildings and we’ve now resorted to the last course of action. The time has come for them to strike.”
With more than 145,000 members in 11 states and Washington, D.C., 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.