32BJ SEIU Rally – ‘Fair Wages & Good Jobs’
Philadelphia – A 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU) janitor of 10 years, Crystal Gonzalez told El Hispano that the dismissal of several Philadelphia union janitors was simply creating more homeless: “We have enough homeless out here. And I try to help them.”
In a unified effort on behalf of maintenance workers recently fired by new building management at 21st and Chestnut street, nearly 3,000 janitors and supporters of SEIU 32BJ from Boston, New York and Baltimore to Pittsburgh and Washington D.C., marched to LOVE Park, Thursday, demanding reinstatement of the displaced workers and for recognition of union representation they say is essential to fair wages and benefits.
With union construction workers along Market Street halting work in a symbolic gesture of solidarity, the purple clad SEIU workers were also joined in their march by a host of city officials, including Democratic Mayoral candidate Jim Kenney, Council President Darrell Clarke, Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez, Councilmen Mark Squilla, Curtis Jones, Bill Greenlee, Kenyatta Johnson, W. Goode, Bob Henon and Dennis O’Brien.
While earning $15.40-an-hour working at 16th and Arch (union janitors average $14 to $17.50-an-hour), Ms. Gonzalez says of fellow janitors, “Everyone here lives paycheck to paycheck.”
“I’d like to see our wages go up every year. I think we’re entitled to that,” she said, adding that 32BJ SEIU is bargaining to maintain the current level of medical and pension benefits.
With a 11-year old son in school who suffers with asthma, Ms. Gonzalez noted she especially “depends on (the) medical benefits.” And of the possible changes to the union pension plan, Ms. Gonzalez said, “It’s not fair.”
“The kind of work that we do is labor work that breaks our bodies down. It’s very hard pushing or lifting vacuum cleaners and other equipment around. And some of us can’t even make it to retirement,” Ms. Gonzalez explained. “When I retire I’d like to have my pension. A lot of these people have been working 20 to 30 years.”
The leadership of 32BJ SEIU janitors gathered in force to bolster negotiating efforts for fair wages and benefits on behalf of Philadelphia’s Janitors. The SEIU is negotiating a new contract with Building Operators Labor Relations Division Building Owners & Managers Assoc. of Philadelphia, as the earlier contract expires on October 15th.
“The only way you can assure fair wages and fair working conditions is by collective bargaining, by standing together,” Jim Kenney insisted . “The only real, true power and real, true effectiveness is all of you standing together. We cannot thrive as a city if over a quarter of our neighbors are mired in poverty.”
“Everything I’ve become has to do with the labor movement and my parents having access to good wages and good benefits,” Kenney said.
Gesturing in the direction of 2116 Chestnut Street, Daisy Cruz, Mid-Atlantic district leader 32BJ SEIU said, “At this beautiful building, about two months ago, our workers were thrown out -of their jobs like trash. Greystar, (new building managers) decided this, and it wasn’t because they didn’t do a good job or the tenants didn’t love them. They were working hard every night.”
“We’re here and we’re going to fight to the end for what we deserve,’ asserted Cruz. “These are the jobs that take care of our families, take care of our children, and (enable us) to be the backbone of our neighborhoods.”
Calling on replacement nonunion janitors at 21st and Chestnut Sts. to leave their jobs and “join us,” the President of 32BJ SEIU, Hector Figueroa declared: “Philadelphia is a union town.”
“We are on the move and fighting to raise America with good jobs,” Figueroa continued. “Our pay must keep pace with the cost of living or we all fall behind. These are the kinds of jobs that keep communities going and that build cities.”
“Look around,” said Gabe Morgan, Vice President 32BJ SEIU. “Why are we standing here today making this street purple? We’re standing here in one of the richest neighborhoods, bought up by some of the richest people and near one of the richest buildings in our city.”
“We know these people because we deal with them every day, and in a way they don’t know us,” continued Morgan. “All of us in 32BJ SEIU,” from Boston, Pittsburgh and New York to Jersey and Philadelphia. “We all know each other because we come from the same thing. We work for ours, we work for our neighborhoods, and we work for pay.”
“We know them and their billions of dollars; and we know that they will try to take what little we have if they get the chance,” Morgan said. “And these people threw our people out in the street. But we’ve taken these streets back.”