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Strike averted as cleaners sign deal.

Commercial property service workers rang in the New Year with a new contract, as its union, Local 32BJ, and the Real Estate Advisory Board on Labor Relations averted a strike just two days before the existing contract was set to expire.

Terms of the four-year contract include more than 16% in wage hikes. The average hourly pay rate for the commercial workers represented by the union will rise from $19.50 to $22.65 at the start of the contract's fourth year. The contract also raises employers' annual contribution of pension benefits by 40% over the next four years, bringing the monthly pension cap from $1250 to $1400.

"This settlement should be viewed not just as a raise in wages for our employees, but rather as an overall package that recognizes increases in the cost of living and preserves our employees' health, pension and other important benefits that come with their jobs," said James Berg, president of the Real Estate Advisory Board (RAB) on Labor Relations.

Service workers will begin 2008 with a 3.85% wage increase, followed by 3.7% the second year, 3.8% the third year and 3.9% by 2012, when service workers will have an average weekly salary of $908.

More importantly, the contract--ratified by the union and the RAB board of directors--prevented a service workers strike that seemed imminent. LBJ32 held demonstrations in midtown in the days leading up to the Dec. 29, when both sides reached an agreement. In preparation, RAB also issued a manual offering best practices for commercial building owners to maintain their properties in the event of a strike.

"We are pleased that the union and our industry consisting of building owners, managing agents and cleaning contractors--have been able to reach an agreement without inconveniencing our tenants or the public," Berg said.

LBJ32 represents approximately 26,000 service workers throughout 1500 commercial buildings in Manhattan and the outer boroughs, including the Empire State Building, the World Financial Center, the Met Life building and other iconic properties. The organization is also part of the Services Employees International Unions--the nation's largest union representing commercial building service workers.

Union negotiators had argued that the cost of New York living had outpaced their wages, while RAB officials noted that the annual salary of LBJ32 service workers, which exceeds $40,000, marks the highest pay in the country for building service workers. The union last went on strike in 1996. "We achieved our goal to secure real raises that will help hard working cleaners continue to live in the city where they work," said Michael Fishman, Local 32BJ president. "At a time when workers are getting squeezed, our union is making real gains for property service workers that will help working families get ahead."

The new $6.8 billion contract took effect last week.
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Author:Turcotte, Jason
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jan 9, 2008
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