Janitors begin negotiations with contractors, threaten to strike

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

The vice president and state director of 32BJ SEIU, Kevin Brown, wanted to send a clear message to contractors at a Newark rally: his union of 7,000 workers, who clean some 500 office buildings in New Jersey, would walk off their jobs on Jan. 1 if they don’t get a fair contract.

Brown, who said he’s “encouraged” that the two sides can reach an agreement in contract negotiation that began Thursday, said cleaners intend to maintain their employer-paid family health care, increase paid sick time and increase protections from sexual harassment at work.

While state cleaners’ median pay is $15.55 an hour, more than New Jersey’s current minimum wage of $10 an hour, it falls short of the annual $75,000 that a recent ALICE report – or Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed – found is an acceptable living pay.

Cleaner Maria Ramos said it’s a struggle to make ends meet on $32,000 in Newark, and she delivered a message to contractors.

“We are asking for something fair. We’re not asking for something that they cannot do. They are paying rents of millions and millions of dollars,” Ramos said through a translator.

State officials present at the rally, advocating on behalf of cleaners, included Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter and Parsippany Mayor Michael Soriano.

The union said contractors did not put anything on the table today, but it’s counting on a harmonious relationship producing an agreement worth celebrating during the holidays.