As Strike Deadline Nears, Janitors Rally with Elected Officials at Boston and Cambridge Buildings

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BOSTON — Janitors rallied at buildings throughout Boston and Cambridge tonight with elected officials to demand a fair contract now and protest what they say has been the intimidation tactics of their employers.

In Boston, cleaners gathered with Boston City Council President Ed Flynn and City Councilor Sharon Durkin at 100 Causeway Street, and with Boston City Counselors Julia Mejia at 1 Federal Street and Ruthzee Louijeune at the Prudential Center. In Cambridge, they stood with Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui at One Main Street and with Cambridge City Councilors Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler (in his first act as a City Councilor elect) and Marc McGovern outside Takeda.

At the rallies, workers handed out leaflets with copies of resolution unanimously passed by the Boston City Councils supporting the union members’ effort to negotiate a fair agreement, and a video of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s support. The cleaners also decried several charges filed with the federal government this week by their fellow union members, alleging unlawful intimidation and interference with their labor rights.

The rallies showed employers and building owners that cleaners from the Merrimack Valley to the suburbs of Providence are prepared go on strike if their representatives in Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union cannot reach a fair agreement with the various employers represented by the Maintenance Contractors of New England. Cleaners could walk off the job any time after midnight on Wednesday, November 15, when the current contract expires for over 12,000 union members who clean at upwards of 90 percent of the commercial buildings in Greater Boston, as well as in the Merrimack Valley, Worcester, Providence, and elsewhere. A strike could affect over 1,500 buildings in the area, including almost all of the major office buildings downtown, such as 200 Clarendon (Hancock Tower), the Prudential Center, and One Congress Street; buildings housing major Cambridge biotech companies like Takeda, Novartis, Biogen and Pfizer; the campus of Northeastern University; and many other sites.

“We are asking our employers to honor our sacrifice, to recognize our importance, and to realize the difficulties we face with inflation and lack of full-time work,” said Park Plaza office cleaner and bargaining committee member Ana Gonzalez. “I have worked as a building cleaner for 23 years and have never had a full-time position, so I have to get my health insurance through the state. During the pandemic, every cleaner in my building got sick at some point. While so many others could safely work from home, we still had to ensure buildings were clean and sanitized.”

“We are determined to win a contract that recognizes the sacrifices that janitors have made over these past four years, and that honors their continued importance to our economy and communities,” said Roxana Rivera, Assistant to the President of 32BJ and the head of the union in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. “The majorities of our members are immigrants and/or people-of-color, and they suffered disproportionate losses during the pandemic. They need and deserves an increase in pay that can keep ahead of inflation, a continuation of their benefits package, and, for those workers struggling with two or three jobs, the chance finally to have full-time work. They are ready to strike if the building owners who employ them fail to do the right thing by November 15.”

With more than 175,000 members in 11 states and Washington DC, including 20,000 members in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, 32BJ is the largest building service workers union in the country.

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