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Pittsburgh – Days away from their contract expiring, more than 250 commercial office cleaners – 32BJ SEIU members – braved the pouring rain and voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if a fair agreement is not reached with the Managers, Owners and Contractors Association (MOCA). The contract expires at midnight on Saturday, October 31.
“We want to maintain these good jobs. These hardworking men and women are fighting so that they can support their families and keep our communities strong. We’re united and ready to do what it takes to make sure that we don’t slide backwards,” said Sam Williamson, Western Pennsylvania District Leader, 32BJ.
Negotiations between MOCA and the 32BJ SEIU Bargaining Committee opened Wednesday, September 9. Despite Pittsburgh’s commercial real estate industry booming and vacancy rates among the lowest in the country, MOCA is offering only a negligible wage increase and is proposing changes to benefits which would make healthcare unaffordable.
“The cost of living is going up, but employers want to keep us back. I have a wife and three children. We all rely on my affordable healthcare. The changes MOCA wants to make would set my family back financially,” said Bert Wilson, a cleaner.
Commercial cleaners were joined by City Council President Bruce Kraus (D-3rd), faith leaders, newly organized security officers, fast-food workers and other allies.
“Pittsburgh is a hard-working, progressive city on the move – we advocate for businesses that are going to respect and take care of the people who take care of us. 32BJ members are the backbone of their communities, working good, family-sustaining jobs that strengthen our city, said Kraus. “These hardworking women and men are leading the way for economic justice as workers here and across the nation fight for $15. I stand with these workers in fighting for a fair contract which helps them raise the standards in their industry and in their communities.”
The average downtown office cleaner earns $16 an hour. Those working outside the central business district earn on average $11.25 an hour, almost half the living wage of $21.07 an hour for one adult supporting one child in the city of Pittsburgh, according to MIT.
“We are in a different place from four years ago. The commercial real estate industry is booming. Employers are profiting. These men and women aren’t asking for much. They just want to be able to support their families and the businesses in their communities. They can’t do that with the types of cuts MOCA is proposing,” said Williamson.
If a fair agreement is not reached midnight Saturday, the cleaners may go on strike impacting buildings and office parks across Pittsburgh and Allegheny County like: U.S. Steel Tower, Gateway Center, PNC Plaza and Bayer headquarters.
With 145,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C., including 22,000 in Pennsylvania, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.