Janitors who clean large commercial buildings in the Hudson Valley and Fairfield County, Connecticut have authorized their union to call a strike if a new four-year contract cannot be negotiated by the end of the year.
About 500 of the 3,000-some members of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, attended a rally Thursday at the County Office Building in White Plains where they voted unanimously by acclamation to authorize a strike.
The SEIU has been bargaining since Oct. 30 with a group of about three dozen cleaning contractors. The cleaning services’ representative, attorney Nicholas J. Grello of Zangari Cohn in New Haven, Connecticut, was not immediately available to discuss their position.
The janitors clean about 250 properties in the region, according to the SEIU, comprising about 85% of the suburban office complexes, downtown office towers, shopping malls, colleges and other large facilities with at least 100,000 square feet of space.
The union wants to maintain the same level of benefits and get a fair increase in wages to keep up with the cost of living, SEIU negotiator Lenore Friedlaender said in a telephone interview.
An office cleaner currently gets about $16.05 an hour, she said, but most of them work part time and a significant number of janitors have to work two jobs.
She did not say exactly how much more they want, but she said that if property owners paid their cleaning contractors another penny per month per square foot, there would be more than enough to cover the costs.
A 100,000-square-foot building, for instance, would pay $12,000 a year more for cleaning services.
“I think there is enough money in this industry to be able to reach an agreement,” Friedlaender said. “Property values are going up and the average rental income per square foot is increasing, particularly in Westchester.”
She said that a master contract with the union also benefits the cleaning services and building owners, in that it creates one standard so that no cleaning contractor has an advantage or disadvantage and can compete on quality.