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Building Worker Contract Talks: Implications for Tri-State Area & Beyond

November 28, 2011

NEW YORK - Midnight on New Year's Eve is the deadline in contract talks between building owners and the union representing 22,000 building maintenance workers in New York. Contract talks started in mid-November, with building owners asking for concessions.

Hector Figueroa, the secretary-treasurer of SEIU Local 32BJ, says workers who are struggling to attain middle-class lives are now being asked for givebacks by the people who run the most lucrative real estate in the nation.

"New York City real estate is a $20 billion industry, yet they are making demands for concessions from recent immigrants - largely women and people of color - that clean their buildings and maintain their facilities."

The Real Estate Advisory Board says it gave raises four years ago when the economy was strong and now contends it is time for the union to give back. Figueroa disputes the hard times claim, citing a recent Bloomberg report that says the Manhattan real estate industry remains strong and very close to the highs of 2008.

The current talks involve 22,000 commercial building workers in Manhattan, although Figueroa says the issues raised could affect more workers in the tri-state area and beyond.

"What is interesting is that New York being the richest real estate market, it's really unbelievable that we cannot get a settlement that is fair for the industry and the workers, when we have gotten such settlements in places like Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh."

He says building owners seem to be taking their cues from anti-union fervor in other states.

"They are going after the middle class, the very people that sustain our economy, at a moment when it is going to be harmful for everyone, including the communities where they live."

Both sides say they want to reach a contract agreement. A strike would affect 1,500 commercial buildings in New York.

The Bloomberg article, published Nov. 9, 2011, is at http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-11-10/ross-says-nyc-real-estate-strong-as-storm-clouds-gather.html.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY