7,000 Janitors in the State Begin Contract Negotiations
Elected officials and allies support janitors ahead of possible December strikes over living wages, health insurance and benefits.
NEWARK, N.J. — 32BJ SEIU, the largest property services union in the country, opened bargaining for 7,000 janitors who clean more than 500 buildings throughout the state. Before negotiations began with employers, about 200 janitors were joined by mayors and elected officials from multiple districts in a show of support for the workers’ bargaining demands. If the union and the employers do not come to an agreement by the contract’s expiration at midnight on December 31, the janitors who clean office buildings could strike.
A group of high-powered New Jersey elected officials from Jersey City to Cape May joined the 32BJ SEIU members and their employers at the opening event for contract negotiations. In the room was Assemblyperson Annette Quijano, Assemblyperson Britnee Timberlake, Assemblyperson Shavonda Sumter, Assemblyperson John Gibson, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, Newark City Council President Mildred C. Crump, Jersey City Council President Rolando Lavarro, Parsippany-Troy Hills Mayor Michael Soriano, Morristown City Council Member Stefan Armington, Bergen County Freeholder Germaine Ortiz and Bergen County Freeholder John Sullivan. The Working Families Alliance of New Jersey and Make the Road New Jersey were also present.
Workers will negotiate a master agreement with over 50 contractors to maintain quality, employer-paid family healthcare, currently afforded by their contract. They will fight to increase paid sick time and protections from sexual harassment at work.
The vast majority of cleaners covered by the commercial contract currently earn between $15.35 and $17.30 per hour. 32BJ members who work full time have quality, affordable health care and other benefits, including a pension plan for full time workers in Newark and the Hudson Waterfront.
“Janitors are demanding wages, benefits and rights on the job that meet the costs of living in New Jersey,” Kevin Brown, 32BJ SEIU Vice President and New Jersey State Director said at a press conference. “What employers need to understand is that we’re not stopping at $15/hour. At the bargaining table this year, janitors will demand raises and that they keep their quality, employer-paid healthcare. We’re going to hold employers accountable for sexual harassment and fight for stronger language in the collective bargaining agreement. This is how we fuel the working class and create long-lasting, tangible benefits that will ripple throughout our communities.”
According to a financial hardship study called ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), a family of four needs to earn a whopping $74,748/year, at minimum, to simply survive in New Jersey. The median wage for 32BJ SEIU janitors at $15.55/hour—yielding $32,240/year— is far below the survival wage. Without meaningful wages and benefits outlined in the collective bargaining agreement that covers full and part-time employees, working people could be forced into poverty.
As New Jersey’s economy is booming, the janitors at the bargaining table are majority women, parents, people of color and immigrants who are the backbone of the local economy. New Jersey’s roaring real estate market means that employers have the resources to provide workers with living wages. Buildings that 32BJ SEIU members clean, including Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Pfizer have saved billions on 2018 taxes combined due to President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Construction projects in Essex and Hudson counties are thriving and vacancy rates at office buildings are at record lows.
32BJ SEIU janitors clean the state’s largest, most essential office buildings and transit hubs, including Newark’s Prudential Center, the PATH stations, Allergan, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Merck and Bristol Meyers-Squibb. Landmark buildings include the Goldman Sachs Tower and Novartis’s 1 Health Plaza.
“This isn’t my first time sitting at the bargaining table, and like last time, I’m confident that we will win our demands,” Mary Francis Cuadrado, cleaner at Merck and Celgene, said. “Every year, as a union member, I get a raise as the cost of living goes up. We are fighting not just for our union, but for all working people. If there is anything that you take away today, it’s that we’re going to keep fighting for what we deserve in exchange for our hard work.”
“Our union is going to keep our healthcare in this contract,” Michelle Lewis, cleaner at Columbia High School in Maplewood said. “Without health insurance, which I get through my union, I wouldn’t be here today. All working people need quality health benefits. It’s a basic human right that employers need to understand is the new norm.”
“We all need to feel safe at work,” said Sandra Agudelo, cleaner at Allergan in Madison. “Sexual harassment is a real issue in the service industry that a lot of us face on the job. Some people are scared to speak up about it, but our union educates us on our rights and holds employers accountable. We’re fighting for even more protections in our contract.”
“There are 2,000 members of 32BJ that live in Jersey City, plus their families. It is imperative that these people have are fairly compensated for the hard work they do,” said Mayor of Jersey City Steven Fulop. “The reality is that as Jersey City grows, the owners of these companies stand to benefit, but it is imperative to us that the workers benefit as well. We encourage a fair negotiation and strongly encourage a contract that protects working families.”
“I come from a long line of union members and I understand very well how important it is to fight for fair, livable wages and benefits. I have always stood and will continue to stand firmly and proudly in support of providing economic justice and security for the hard-working men and women of 32BJ SEIU,” said Mayor of East Orange Ted R. Green. “Our working families deserve that and nothing less.”
“We should never forget the workers who work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep our office buildings clean,” Mayor of Morristown Tim Dougherty said. “These workers need to be treated fairly. While President Trump favors the rich in his tax policies, we as democrats need to stand up for the undercompensated average worker who struggles to raise a family. I am proud to be here and support them.”
The union, 32BJ SEIU, is bargaining contracts for 75,000 office cleaners up and down the east coast. In the eleventh hour on Oct. 15, the union won raises, maintained health insurance and won strong language on sexual harassment in a contract for 3,000 Philadelphia janitors, averting a massive strike.
With more than 175,000 members, including 13,000 in New Jersey, 32BJ is the largest property service union in the country.