By Linda O’Flanagan
Representatives from the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations (RAB) and Local 32BJ Service Employees International Union will resume talks today (Wednesday) in a bid to reach a new agreement for service workers before their contract expires at midnight December 31.
Officials from both sides have vowed negotiations will go on “round the clock” if necessary.
The talks resume after some city politicians took a swipe at building owners and threw their support behind SEIU 32BJ workers.
Council member Brad Lander, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus said, “New York is home to some of the world’s most successful businesses and most sought-after properties.
“The blue collar workers who take care of those buildings and help make those businesses possible deserve to be fairly compensated. Give them a fair contract that creates good jobs, protects workers benefits and security, and shrinks inequality in New York.”
The New York Progressive Caucus is a group formed by a dozen left-leaning city council members last year to champion a progressive agenda on housing, economic development, labor and civil rights issues.
Lander, along with his fellow Caucus members, called the RAB’s offer to New York’s 22,000 office cleaners and service personnel “an attempt to roll back wage and benefit standards … aimed at creating a second class of workers who are paid less and get lesser benefits.”
According to the Caucus, the top rate for commercial office cleaners represented by 32BJ is $22.65 an hour, or $47,000 annually for a full-time 40-hour worker “significantly less than the household income that independent researchers have shown is necessary to support a family of four.”
“At a time when the cost of living in New York City continues to skyrocket, we must not allow our building service workers to lose ground in their contract negotiations,” said Progressive Caucus co-chair Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.
“The commercial realty industry continues to turn huge profits, while workers earn wages that cannot even sustain a family of four.”
Condemning what he called “political rhetoric that ignores the facts,” Howard Rothschild, chairman of the RAB, said New York commercial service building workers are the highest paid in the country.
“What we want is a fair labor agreement that reflects the realities of today’s economy, so that we can encourage growth in the industry to create more jobs for Local 32BJ and other unions employed by the industry,” said Rothschild.
“Our owners have a deep and long standing commitment to New York City and our building service workers. Hollow political rhetoric that ignores the facts is not productive to reaching a fair labor agreement – something both sides want to achieve before January 1. ”
According to the RAB, the real estate industry is one of the most unionized job sectors in New York City. By the owners reckoning, an average office cleaner’s wage and benefit costs owners approximately $77,000 each year.
The RAB has proposed no changes to the wages and benefit fund levels for current employees; A two-tier wage and benefits structure for new workers; and amending the manner in which contributions are made to the Union’s political action committee fund.
Local 32BJ has called the offer an affront to theworkers who keep the city’s office buildings clean and running well and has authorized a strike if a deal isn’t reached by midnight on Jan 1.