NYC Office Strike Could Leave Dirty Buildings In Its Wake

December 14, 2007

Thousands of New York City’s commercial properties – including the Empire State Building – could have trouble staying clean and running on New Year’s Day if 26,000 service workers go on strike.

Members of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, who are demanding higher wages, marched from Times Square to Rockefeller Center on Wednesday afternoon and rallied near the Christmas tree to voice their protest.

The janitors, doormen and elevator operators, who average $40,500 a year in wages and $55,000 a year when health and pension benefits are included, say the real estate industry has been very profitable in recent years but they haven’t benefited from the boom times.

“It is very insulting, because we’re doing their job,” union member Anita Gonell said of the Realty Advisory Board, an association of commercial building owners, managers and cleaning contractors.

The board and union officials plan to go back to the negotiating table on Monday, but workers say that if they don’t get a raise they’ll go on strike after their contract expires on Dec. 31.

“They’re the workers that keep midtown and Wall Street buildings clean and running well,” said Matt Nerzig, a union spokesman.

He said that while the value of New York buildings has gone up an average of 60 percent since the workers’ last contract was signed three years ago, the workers’ salaries do not reflect that. He said wages have gone down by 5 percent.

Industry officials say the city already has the highest building worker salaries in the country.

Paul Salvatore, general counsel to the Realty Advisory Board, said the position of building owners and managers is: “‘You have received very fair wages over time. You have consistently beat the cost of living. You have a generous benefits package, and you’re not our partners in the buildings.”‘

Salvatore said the subprime mortgage crisis could spell trouble for the industry in the future, and “we have to do what’s fiscally responsible for the industry, which could be facing a very stormy, choppy period.”

The union has announced that it will not tell management negotiators how large a raise it wants until Dec. 27. Contract talks started on Oct. 24.

About 2,000 buildings would be affected, including the World Financial Center in lower Manhattan and the MetLife building in midtown.

With 65,000 members in the city, Local 32BJ is the city’s largest private-sector union.

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