32BJ expects fight with real estate industry over contract renewal

Leaders say industry always goes after healthcare

32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg (Credit: Facebook, iStock)
32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg (Credit: Facebook, iStock)

The union that represents office cleaners is gearing up for a fight with the real estate industry over its soon-to-expire contract.

32BJ SEIU launched its contract campaign for the city’s office cleaners on Thursday, speaking to a room of elected officials gathered at its Flatiron District headquarters. The union has 22,000 office cleaners in the city, across 1,300 buildings. Their four-year contract expires December 31, and bargaining officially starts Nov. 14.

President Kyle Bragg, who took over the union after Héctor Figueroa passed away in July, said that while the union has a “decent” relationship with the real estate industry, he’s still expecting there to be a disagreement over healthcare.

“We are in trying times, and we’re going to go up against some of the most powerful people in this world, the real estate industry,” he said.

Howard Rothschild, president of the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations

Howard Rothschild, president of the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations

Howard Rothschild, president of the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, which represents owners in the building service industry during labor contract negotiations, said his organization and 32BJ “represent the gold standard for labor relationships in the United States.”

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“We have a long history of successful collective bargaining, with more than 20 years of uninterrupted labor agreements,” he said in a statement. “We look forward to productive negotiating sessions that we hope will result in a fair and mutually agreeable resolution by December 31.”

Denis Johnston, vice president and head of the union’s commercial division, noted that the union isn’t willing to switch over to premium sharing— as part of their benefits, members don’t pay premiums or deductibles.

“Every time we go to the table, they come after our healthcare,” he said. “Our members work incredibly hard, their bodies face a terrible toll from the work that they do. Hips, knees, shoulders, ankles, everything hurts after decades in the building.”

It’s not yet clear what increases to wages and benefits 32BJ will seek. According to the union, it secured increases of $107 in wages, $16 in pension and $81.08 in healthcare per week during the last contract negotiations.

Candis Tolliver, political director for 32BJ, said she expected the real estate industry to “say the sky is falling.”

“When they come to you and say ‘well, we can’t afford it, or we’re going to die, all these things are going to happen to them,” that’s not true,” she said. “What we’re seeing is that they’ve continued to raise the rent, and they are continuing to prosper when it comes to the value of their buildings.”