Union Poised to Strike if Health deal not reached

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More than 10,000 New York City office cleaners and building service workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize the Local 32BJ Bargaining Committee to call a strike if the commercial real estate industry refuses to maintain affordable, quality health coverage for its workers.

This means that if a new labor agreement is not reached by Friday, October 1st, the date Local 32BJ's contracts expire, there could be a strike by tens of thousands of doormen, window cleaners, maintenance workers, porters and security officers across three states. That’s because for the first time ever, all of SEIU 32BJ’s 40,000 commercial cleaners working in the tri-state area have united with the more than 70,000 members of Local 32BJ - the largest building service workers union in the nation - in a campaign to protect and expand their access to health care.

“The health care coverage of 135,000 workers and their families is at stake in this negotiation,� declared Michael Fishman, Local 32BJ President. “Today’s vote, along with the votes yesterday from New Jersey, Connecticut, Long Island and Westchester, send a strong message to the region’s real estate industry that Local 32BJ is determined to secure health care coverage for all of its members.� The vote occurred September 23rd.

Fishman went on to say that the Union has been looking at ways to contain skyrocketing health care costs – which, in 2004 alone, rose by 13% in this country - while preserving employer-paid quality health care coverage. There is a widening gap between the cost of health care and the amount employers are contributing. The union is asking the $175 billion commercial residential real estate industry – which has grown by 20% since their last contract in 2001 - to provide whatever remaining funds are necessary to close the gap and avert a crisis.

The commercial contract talks take on added significance because any agreement reached will also automatically apply to Local 32BJ’s 28,000 residential building service workers. Following the casting of their votes, about 5,000 energetic and very determined 32BJ members marched along 34th Street blowing little white whistles and waving signs in both English and Spanish. They then held a rally in front of Empire State Building, where they were joined by the much-esteemed Transit Workers Union Local 100 President Roger Toussaint. He expressed his union’s solidarity with them and delivered some very rousing words urging 32BJ members to stay strong and stand united behind their leadership in this monumentally important struggle.

Brian McLoughlin, President of the New York City Central Labor Council, added his voice as well. Calling 32BJ “a model to the trade union movement in this city and in fact across the country,� he said to the assembled members, “I guarantee one thing to you: Every one of the 400 unions in this city are going to back you to the hilt. That’s because the fight you’re fighting during these collective bargaining contract talks defends every working person in this city.�

Local 32BJ is comprised mainly of members who hail from 60 different countries and speak 25 different languages. Throughout the march and rally that indomitable, irrepressible immigrant spirit was evident. While the subject was serious, the mood was joyful, with people even breaking out in dance to the lively music provided by the legendary R&B band GQ. Talks with the real estate industry resume September 28th. In addition to health care, other significant issues on the table are wage increases and retirement benefits.

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