Thousands of energized New York City unionized apartment building workers and their supporters marched April 13 from Central Park to ritzy Park Avenue to a rally on their contract demands. With negotiations with the industry association representing most owners, the Realty Advisory Board (RAB), going nowhere, the union representing the workers, Local 32BJ SEIU, called for the event to garner support for their cause and ready the workers for a possible strike.
In the four years since the last contract, prices have increased by over 11% while wages have gone up only 8.5%. Now, in the negotiations, the RAB is calling for reductions in both wages and benefits.
Leaders of 32BJ SEIU, including its president Mike Fishman, as well as leaders of several other unions, pointed out that the members work hard not only to take care of their buildings but also to help the residents who live in them by maintaining safe, healthy environments. Now it is time for the workers to get something in return, a fair contract.
The New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and New York City Comptroller John Liu all spoke in support of the union, emphasizing that the many contributions the workers give to the quality of life in New York City and the importance of maintaining the ability of working people to continue to afford to live here require the need for a fair contract with increases in both wages and benefits. Later in the program, over one dozen members of the New York City Council appeared on the stage with the union leaders in a show of support.
The union represents 30,000 workers who provide services in 3,200 apartment buildings with over one million residents throughout New York City. Contract talks began on March 9. On April 1, union members authorized a strike if one is necessary. On Thursday, their bargaining team will go to round the clock negotiations with the RAB. The current contract expires at 12:01 am on April 21, and failure to agree to a new one by then could result in the workers walking picket lines. The union leaders emphasized that they and their members don't want to strike, but they will if they have to. And they will win.
By C. Edward Meyer