Hartford and New Haven area office cleaners voted Thursday to authorize their SEIU 32BJ bargaining committee to call a strike if necessary for the nearly 2,000 janitors it represents.
Asked if they wanted to authorize a strike the janitors and office cleaners shouted “Si se puede!” from the pews at Central Baptist Church in Hartford. When they were asked “No podemos” which translates to “we can not” the room fell silent. The voice vote was unanimous and a strike can proceed if necessary.
Contract negotiations have been ongoing since Nov. 17, but the current contract expires Dec. 31 and negotiations with the building owners and contractors have stalled, according to union leadership.
“Their proposal does not offer a single penny in wage increases for the next few years,” Kurt Westby, Connecticut state director of 32BJ, told the crowd. “I say how dare they.”
In addition, building owners want to take away a fund which has been helping the janitors improve themselves by taking English courses for free. The population of janitors is largely Spanish speaking.
A representative of the building owners’ negotiating team did not return calls for comment Thursday.
“If they pull us deeper into poverty we will be on strike,” Westby said.
Gabriel Acosta of Hartford said he has been a janitor for Unnico Cleaning for 15 years and currently works at Hartford Insurance. He said he voted to authorize a strike.
“We need a strike because we deserve insurance. I want to see wages increase,” he said. “All the people at Unnico, we work very hard. We know the situation is very bad but the situation is bad for the workers too.”
Acosta said many of his co-workers have children and have to work two jobs to support their families.
Felipe Trevitazzo, who works for Capitol Cleaning at Bradley International Airport, agreed wages were too low for janitors.
“We need better wages because the company only give to us zero, zero, zero for four years,” he said.
But what‘s really important to him right now is health insurance.
Trevitazzo was diagnosed with cancer a year ago and credits his recovery to the good treatment he received through his health plan. If he had to pay out of pocket for his treatment, he said his family would have faced financial ruin.
“We pay taxes,” Trevitazo said. “We work hard. We should be able to have a decent life.”
Westby said it was important for the workers to strike if necessary because his members are working poor, only making around $11 or $13 an hour. If the cleaning companies would not offer better wages they “might as well confine them to the underclass,” he said.
The decision to authorize a strike was made by 32BJ unions in Stamford, White Plains, New York, and Newark, New Jersey.
Click here to read our previous report on the negotiations.
Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report.