UNION SQUARE — Thousands of commercial office cleaners could go on strike if they can't reach an agreement with management on a new contract by Dec. 31.
Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union voted Thursday at the Sheraton New York Hotel to authorize a strike in the event that contract negotiations with the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations break down.
If they decide to strike, more than 22,000 office cleaners would picket at more than 1,500 commercial buildings citywide, including Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and the Time-Warner Center, the union said.
After Thursday's vote, thousands of workers spilled out into the street outside the hotel, ringing cowbells and cheering before marching from Herald to Union squares.
Contract negotiations began in mid-November but then hit a snag over management's proposal for a two-tier wage and benefit structure for new hires, which the union claims would create a "second class" of workers.
“The real estate industry’s demands to roll back the wage and benefit standards of lower middle class workers are unacceptable,” Mike Fishman, President of 32BJ SEIU, said in a statement. “Today’s strike vote shows we are determined to keep our city a place that working families can afford to call home.”
The top rate for commercial office cleaners represented by 32BJ is $22.65 per hour or $47,000 a year, significantly less than the household income researchers say is needed to support a family of four, according to the union.
The Realty Advisory Board said their existing contract from 2007 effectively raised the average salary and benefits package to $70,000 per year.
"Our commercial building service workers are the highest paid in the country — and we are not asking to change that — but continued wage increases that ignore grim economic realities facing our city and country can't continue," Realty Advisory Board President Howard Rothschild said in a statement.
"We look forward to working with Local 32BJ to negotiate a fair and realistic labor agreement," he added.
The office cleaners haven't gone on strike since 1996, their fourth since 1934, the RAB noted.
The board has advised its members to prepare for a possible strike and on Wednesday issued a comprehensive "preparedness manual" outlining how to minimize disruptions. Buildings may have to prepare for garbage collectors and contractors refusing to cross picket lines. The RAB also advised getting fuel deliveries before the strike deadline.