By Linda O’Flanagan
Talks got underway yesterday (Tuesday) between the Realty Advisory Board and 32BJ on a new contract for the city’s 22,000 commercial office building cleaners.
The current labor agreement — which will expire at midnight on December 31 — covers cleaners and maintenance workers in more than 1,000 commercial buildings throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
According to the RAB — which represents the owners and operators of those buildings as well as the majority of the cleaning contractors in the city — Local 32BJ members are the highest paid building service workers in the country. In the last agreement, negotiated four years ago, the union secured an increase in wage and benefit packages for workers of 4.18% each year, says the RAB.
Howard Rothschild, president of the RAB, said that “generous contract” came at a time when the economy was strong and real estate at its peak.
“Four years ago, when the economy was strong, New York City’s building owners stepped up and provided the union with a generous contract for its workers,” said Rothschild.
“Today, our country and our city are faced with a deep and lingering economic recession that is negatively impacting the real estate industry. It’s now time for Local 32BJ to step up.”
According to the RAB, under the current contract, an average office cleaner’s wage and benefit cost to owners is $76,540 each year. All employees receive benefits packages that include full family health insurance; a defined benefit pension fund and 401K annuity with an employer contribution; training and legal benefits; and upto 49 paid holiday, vacation, sick and medical days off.
In New York City, the average individual wage and benefit cost for commercial building service workers is $36.80 per hour. According to Union statistics, the average wage and benefit cost for Local 32BJ members, as of October 1, 2011, in other cities is: Philadelphia – $26.06; Washington, DC – $15.18; Baltimore – $13.67; and Pittsburgh – $22.08.
The RAB also points out that property taxes have risen 26% since the last contract was written and office vacancies have gone up from 5.6% in 2008 to 9.7% .
The union, meanwhile, points to a more recent upswing in business within the investment sales sector, which achieved its busiest third quarter in three years with sales activity reaching $6.3 billion.
“In addition, there have been six straight quarters of rental gains with top quality buildings up 10.7 percent in the past 12 months, according to CoStar,” points out the union.
32BJ figures it members get paid $22.65 an hour or $47,000 annually.
“With the real estate industry back on track, there is no excuse to keep office cleaners from getting the wages they need to continue to make ends meet,” said Mike Fishman, president of 32BJ.