About 350 union members, elected officials, religious leaders and community allies marched and rallied through the pouring rain in a massive Labor Day action with the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ to launch a contract campaign for 7,000 building cleaners in the state. The contract is set to expire on December 31, 2019 and bargaining will begin in the next few months.
32BJ SEIU members clean more than 500 New Jersey office buildings for some of the state’s largest employers, such as Prudential, Merck and Bristol Meyers-Squibb. Landmark buildings include the Goldman Sachs Tower, Novartis’s 1 Health Plaza and PATH stations.
On a federal holiday to honor working people, Labor Day, the group recognized the challenges faced by working people—unaffordable healthcare, low wages, attacks on immigrants and diminishing rights on the job. Despite that, 32BJ has a proven record of winning for working families. 32BJ played key roles in passing the state-wide $15/hour minimum wage, anti-wage theft legislation, paid family leave and historically high wages for airport workers. The union, alongside respected elected officials and community allies, channeled their success to rally for a strong contract fight for 2020.
The day-long activities began with a holy mass at St. Michael’s Parish for the “blessing of tools”. The City’s building cleaners offered brooms, mops, and buckets in a communion that was blessed by Father Robinson Gonzalez Herrera.
The mass then marched over a mile through Newark’s downtown business district to Washington Park, occasionally stopping at buildings where union members work to chant, “el pueblo unido jamas sera vencido,” or “people united will never be defeated.”
The Working Families Party of New Jersey, Make the Road New Jersey and New Jersey Immigrant Justice Alliance marched with the union in solidarity of their contract campaign for office building cleaners.
Following the march, the group rallied at Washington Park near the union’s New Jersey headquarters. “On this Labor Day, we are paying tribute the movement of janitors who work tirelessly to raise the standards of labor in New Jersey,” Kevin Brown said, the Vice President and New Jersey State Director of 32BJ SEIU. “Janitors are fighting for communities where no one is left behind and everyone shares in the prosperity they help create.
“Today, we are launching our contract campaign for thousands of building cleaners up and down the state. In an economy where the commercial real estate industry is booming, building owners can afford to provide the individuals who keep their buildings clean, safe and running smoothly a family-sustaining wage with decent benefits and adequate hours. A $15/hour minimum wage is a step in the right direction, but $31,000/year isn’t going to sustain a family in New Jersey.
“We’re standing here with our elected officials and community allies to say that we’re ready to fight for and win a contract that lifts up working families. Our union’s contract will raise standards for not only 32BJ members, but for all.”
Several commercial cleaners from throughout the state gave compelling stories about issues that working people face.
“I’ve lived through the union difference,” said Esther Tuclay, a building cleaner in Summit. “32BJ wins higher wages for workers and makes our lives easier. Having rights on the job is a powerful tool in our community.”
“Without health insurance, which I get through my union, I wouldn’t be here today,” said Michelle Lewis, a cleaner at Columbia High School in Maplewood. “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,” saidSandra 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.”
Local elected officials, political and immigrant rights groups joined the union in support of the contract campaign.
“On Labor Day, I am standing with 32BJ SEIU as they launch their commercial contract campaign for the workers that keep our economies in motion,” saidNew Jersey Senator Joe Cryan. “I will fight with the union as they fight for higher wages, better healthcare, and protections against sexual harassment. Attacks in the workplace are not the only threat that our communities face, we also must fight for immigrant, racial, and environmental justice. We must fight for a democracy that every one of us has access to and we must fight against corporate greed that tips the scales in favor of the 1%. Together, we must fight for a city, state, and country that works for all.”
“Unions and the working and middle classes are under assault in this country,” said Jersey City Council President Rolando Lavarro. “32BJ fights back for New Jersey’s workers, bargaining for a fair contract for thousands of working people who make Jersey City and our state strong. We must protect our state’s unions and we support this contract. I stand united with 32BJ.”
“This is not my first time standing with 32BJ. The union has 7,000 members– working families– committed to the fight,” said Hudson County Freeholder Bill O’Dea. “We have to fight to make sure we have health care and protections against sexual harassment. I will fight with the union and do whatever it takes to win. When negotiations begin, I’ll be standing with 32BJ. Come December, and we haven’t reached an agreement, it won’t be the first time that I’ve walked a picket line, and it won’t be the last time I’ll walk a picket line with 32BJ.”
“Hard-working New Jerseyans are the backbone of this state,” Imani R. Oakley, Esq., said, Political Director of the Working Families Party of New Jersey. “The working people of New Jersey deserve their full rights and benefits, from affordable healthcare to living wages to respect and dignity. Working Families fully supports 32BJ and the 7,000 cleaners and janitorial staff in their fight for a stronger contract.”
“I am here in support of 32BJ SEIU’s contract campaign for thousands of New Jersey’s building cleaners,” said Ana Labarces, member of Make the Road New Jersey. “Working families need family sustaining jobs, real benefits and protections. By coming together in this fight for better jobs, we can do better for the entire community. We have worked with 32BJ on many wins in our state, including the $15 minimum wage, and we’re confident that by working together, we’ll win licenses for all, too.”