The Daily Dirt: Landlords, office cleaners kick off contract talks

Negotiations between 32BJ SEIU and RAB have a long road ahead

<p>From left: President of the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations Howard Rothschild and 32BJ SEIU President Manny Pastreich (Getty, Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, 32BJ SEIU)</p>

From left: President of the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations Howard Rothschild and 32BJ SEIU President Manny Pastreich (Getty, Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, 32BJ SEIU)

Office landlords, pointing to vacant space, want more slack in their agreement with unionized cleaners. 

A contract covering 20,000 building service workers, including office cleaners, elevator operators, lobby attendants, maintenance workers and others, expires at the end of the year. 

The unit representing the workers, 32BJ SEIU, and the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, which represents building owners, launched negotiations this month. 

The two parties are not exactly on the same page. 

The RAB on Tuesday provided initial proposals to the union, calling for “fair and reasonable wage increases reflecting current market conditions,” and healthcare benefits that would require workers to start contributing to their premiums. The latter is almost certainly going to be a sticking point in negotiations: the union balked at a premium-sharing proposal last time its contract expired in 2019.   

In a press release, RAB emphasized “soaring” office vacancies and the need for more “flexibility” in its agreement with the union. The group wouldn’t elaborate on what it meant by flexibility, as negotiations are in early stages. But during the pandemic, the union and RAB used similar language around suspending certain work rules.  

“The future of both the industry and our workforce is at risk without implementing alterations to enhance flexibility in our CBA and our healthcare coverage,” said RAB president Howard Rothschild in a statement. 

The union has indicated that it will not accept cuts to health insurance and needs wage increases to keep up with cost of living. 

“We demanded respect. Because billionaires cannot be allowed to balance their books on the backs of working class New Yorkers,” president Manny Pastreich said in a statement, referencing the start of negotiations. 

Last time around, the union and RAB avoided a strike because premium sharing and the creation of a lower-paid worker were dropped from the agreement. But that was back in 2019, pre-pandemic and before the office market was facing an existential crisis. The parties have a rough road ahead.  

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A thing we’ve learned: Demand for sustainable office space is expected to rise quickly in the next few years. Only 34 percent of future demand for low-carbon office space will be met in 20 major global office markets, leading to a demand surplus of 109.8 million square feet, according to a new report by JLL. The report found that green-certified offices in London saw an average 11.6 percent premium on rental rates. Thank you to Erik Engquist for passing along!  

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