Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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Office Cleaners Rally In Midtown As Strike Threat Remains

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TWC News: Office Cleaners Rally In Midtown As Strike Threat Remains
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Contract negotiations will continue Thursday to try to prevent a strike of more than 20,000 office cleaners in the city, but rallying service employees in Midtown and their supporters pledged on Wednesday to strike if an agreement is not reached by the time the old contract expires.

The Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, which represents building management, and Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ failed to resolve their differences over wages and benefits in the Sheraton Hotel on Wednesday.

They will resume talks at 10 a.m. Thursday.

The potential strike, which would begin at midnight Saturday, would affect more than 1,000 commercial buildings in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, including the Empire State Building, MetLife Headquarters and the Time Warner Center.

Some of the cleaners who rallied Wednesday alongside the Reverend Al Sharpton claimed that the Realty Advisory Board wants to create "second-class" workers who are paid less and receive fewer benefits.

Currently, the highest-paid cleaners receive $47,000, but workers said that is not enough to match the city's cost of living.

"I think that it is outrageous, given the kind of money that are made in these office buildings, to try to limit the workers to $47,000," said Sharpton. "They are trying to put permanent poverty status on their workers."

"We're more than ready to fight. We want a fair contract and we'll shut the city down. We're going to shut the city down," said a union member.

"Employers think they can come to workers and take back what they earned," said another union member.

The Realty Advisory Board counters that an average worker's salary, including benefits, really costs employers about $76,000 per year, and that the last four-year contract increased wages by 16.5 percent.

"Operating expenses are way up since we last met. Vacancies are about double where they were, and net-effective rents are about half of what they were," said Howard Rothschild of the Realty Advisory Board. "So that we now have a collective bargaining agreement that really does not reflect the economic times."

Rothschild also said that Local 32BJ workers are the country's highest paid building service workers, and that the management group is "proud of that and [we] don't plan to change that."

Union officials said they have negotiated a similar contract in New Jersey, and that New York City is the last location that still needs a contract.

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