Office cleaners vow they are ready to strike

The city’s office cleaners are vowing they will stop working if a new contract can’t be hammered out by Jan. 1.

Don’t take those empty wastebaskets for granted — office cleaners are threatening to strike across the city.

Members of 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union will vote today on whether to authorize a strike, which could happen as early as Jan. 1, a union spokesman said.

A strike would mean 22,000 office cleaners citywide would refrain from cleaning 1,500 buildings, including the Time Warner Center, Rockefeller Center and Empire State Building.

The union threatened to strike four years ago, but struck a deal. The last strike was in 1996, and lasted for a month. Office managers scrambled during that time to find people to clean bathrooms and pick up trash.

32BJ member Ivan Almendarez, 36, a janitor at NYU, said the strike was a last resort and that members do not want to inconvenience tenants.

But, said the Bronx resident, his $47,000 salary does not support his two children, 10 and 15, and cancer-stricken wife, who all depend on him.

“We’re barely making it,” he told Metro.

He’s worried that under new proposals, incoming workers would get paid less than what he makes — and put him at risk of getting fired.

“We see that as a slap in the face,” said Kwame Patterson, an SEIU spokesman.

Preparations

The Realty Advisory Board, a group that represents building owners, warned yesterday that a strike is  indeed possible. RAB    President Howard Rothschild said they are not  trying to cut jobs, but added, “To keep the current employees steady, we need to reduce costs with future employees.”
Rothschild issued tips for building owners on what to do if cleaners walk out:
   
Make sure all building maintenance is up to date: Contactors and repair workers cannot cross union picket lines.
   
Purchase extra containers and storage materials in case trash pick-up workers refuse to cross the lines.
   
Find replacements for workers who perform tasks like operating elevators.

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @AlisonatMetro.


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