Thousands of cleaners could now walk off the job if no satisfactory contract is reached by December 31
WHITE PLAINS, NY — On Thursday night, about 500 office cleaners and members of the Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ, crowded around a flatbed truck outside the County Office Building in downtown White Plains bearing signs, banners, and layers of winter clothes. Despite the frigid temperatures, the speakers who stepped onto the truck were uniformly heated, all of them offering impassioned pledges of support to these Hudson Valley union members at a crucial stage in their ongoing contract negotiations. The cleaners, likewise, were fired up to authorize their union bargaining committee to call a strike if no deal could be struck by December 31.
“We want the contractors and building owners to know that cleaners will not be shut out of the economic success we helped build!” said Lenore Friedlaender, Assistant to the President of 32BJ and the head of the union in the Hudson Valley. “With your authorization tonight, you demonstrate your willingness to walk off the job after December 31, to ensure that your families can continue to thrive.”
“Your fight is our fight!” said Louis Picani, President of Teamsters Local 456. “Every day you go to work, breaking your backs, but your bosses do not appreciate your efforts! Let’s let them know you cannot be broken! Let’s win a good contract now, and never give up the fight!”
White Plains Mayor Tom Roach reiterated the message. “I’m here to let you know I’m standing with you in your fight for a fair contract. I know about and am very grateful for the important work you do for everyone here in White Plains. Businesses depend on you to be viable.”
The 3,000 janitors covered under the contract clean some 250 properties across the Hudson Valley and Fairfield County, Connecticut. That amounts to over 85% of the large commercial buildings in the area, from suburban corporate headquarters to downtown office towers, from small universities to sprawling shopping malls.
“This is a simple issue,” said Westchester County Executive George Latimer. “Do we want to live in a country of the haves and have-nots, or do we want to build prosperity together? The policemen, the public employees who work in the County Building, the Teamsters, all deserve a fair contract, and so do the building cleaners of the Hudson Valley…. We call on your employers to negotiate a fair contract you can live with!”
At the height of the gathering, 32BJ Secretary Treasurer Larry Engelstein boarded the flatbed to ask, “Are you ready to tell the bosses that if we don’t get a satisfactory offer from them, we are ready to strike?”
With that, 500 hands lifted cards reading YES in bold letters — unanimously authorizing a potential strike — and the workers began a march through downtown White Plains that passed major buildings that the union members clean every day and night.
“It can be difficult, being in negotiations, but we stand firm together” 32BJ cleaner and bargaining committee member Claudia Rodriguez said from the flatbed before the vote and march. “And what helps us most is the bigger unity behind us. Our great strength is that 3,000 of our brothers and sisters are also united. It’s what you and I do together here, in the streets, and if necessary, in the strike we will take after December 31, that will ensure we get a good contract.”
With 175,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C., including 4,000 in Hudson Valley and 5,000 in Connecticut, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.