On the eve of the last scheduled contract negotiations between the Hartford Area Cleaning Contractors Association and SEUI Local 32BJ, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy urged both parties to “find common ground.”
The contract negotiations for around 2,000 commercial cleaners in the Hartford and New Haven areas have been ongoing since Nov. 17. Their current contract expires Dec. 31 and negotiations with the building owners and contractors have stalled, according to union leadership. On Dec. 15 members of 32BJ voted to authorize a strike if necessary.
In a statement, Malloy said both sides should “approach the table with an open mind” when they reconvene on Wednesday and hopefully avoid that strike.
“A strike like this has the potential to disrupt both the lives of the workers on the picket lines and the countless others who work in buildings that rely on the services they provide,” he said. “At a time when we are trying to reinvent our state’s economy, the possibility of a strike will only cause an unnecessary disruption.”
Malloy hasn’t been shy recently about weighing in on labor negotiations that do not involve state workers. In November, as negotiations between the American Red Cross and the union representing its blood collection workers soured, the governor urged a three-week cooling-off period.
Last week he released another statement, calling on a New Jersey-based nursing home and SEIU Local 1199 to work out their differences and settle a contract dispute.
Matt O’Connor, 32BJ’s Connecticut district political director, said Malloy’s activity on labor issues marks a change from the previous two administrations. But he wasn’t complaining.
“I think it’s totally appropriate for the governor to take an interest,” he said, especially when the results of the negotiations could impact the economy.
Not only would a strike itself disrupt the economy but the wages being negotiated determine how much workers can spend, he said. O’Connor said wages have been the sticking point during the negotiations.
Kurt Westby, the union’s state director, said the commercial cleaners only make between $11 and $13.50 an hour and should get raises.
“Our members are hardworking men and women struggling to support their families on wages below or barely above the poverty line,” he said in a press release. “When they get paid decent wages, it is a win for our state’s working families, for taxpayers and for the economy.”
O’Connor said they were not demanding huge wage increases. Tentative agreements reached with contractors in Fairfield County as well as areas of New York, give workers a 3 percent raise each year for four years, he said. With the janitors making on average $12.50 an hour, 3 percent amounts to a raise of about 37 cent an hour per year.
Malloy said those agreements were fair to all the parties involved.
“There is no reason we can’t expect the same in the Hartford and New Haven area,” he said.
Malloy wasn’t the only official urging resolution.
“The nearly 2,000 commercial building cleaners represented by SEIU 32BJ are simply seeking fair wages and healthcare coverage,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said according to a 32BJ press release. “A strike would deal damage to Connecticut’s economy, not only in its impact on workers, but the many people who use the buildings that rely on their services.”
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said the strike would impact the safety and cleanliness of several buildings in Hartford and hurt the janitors who are already struggling. New Haven Mayor John DeStefano also rallied with 32BJ workers last week and said he would be willing to speak with the contractors association on behalf of the union if he was asked, the New Haven Independent reported.
James Canavan, a representative of the contractors association, did not return calls for comment.