After threatening to strike, 1,600 building cleaners in Connecticut score big wins
Photo courtesy of Steve Laschever / 32BJ / SEIU

HARTFORD, Conn.—Shortly after 5:00 PM on Wednesday, Dec. 20, a bargaining committee of commercial building cleaners and union officers reached a tentative agreement on a strong new union contract with an association of Connecticut’s largest cleaning companies.

Pending a ratification vote on Jan. 6, the new agreement with dozens of companies in the Connecticut Cleaning Contractors’ Association will offer 1,600 members of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union unprecedented wage increases over the course of four years totalling between 15.9 and 17.7%, depending on where the union members work.

In addition, the agreement adds two more paid days-off, including Juneteenth wherever possible, and improves contributions to the pension fund.

The accord prevents a strike in central Connecticut, which was authorized to begin as early as Jan. 1, right after the current agreement expires at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Now, the new agreement will come into tentative effect on Jan.1 instead, and then into full effect if members vote to ratify the agreement at an in-person meeting at the union’s Hartford headquarters.

The accord was reached on the last day of scheduled bargaining between the parties, whose positions on economic issues remained far apart after the previous session. On Saturday, however, members voted in three synchronized meetings to authorize the calling of a strike if necessary, and on Wednesday the union held a rally in downtown Hartford at which elected officials from Mayors Luke Bronin of Hartford and Justin Elicker of New Haven, Connecticut Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General William Tong, and Congressmen Joe Courtney and John Larson all made appearances.

In addition, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont also stopped by the final bargaining session to express his support for a fair agreement.

Members of 32BJ clean about 90% of Hartford’s commercial buildings and 80% in New Haven. The properties they maintain range from the Hartford and Travelers Insurance companies to major office buildings like the Gold Building, as well as state and municipal buildings like New Haven City Hall and the State Capitol, public sites like the UConn campus in Hartford and the UConn Health Center in Farmington, and major manufacturing locations like Pratt & Whitney.

“We are proud of the historic tentative agreement we reached with the contractors’ association; we thank all the elected officials, labor organizations, and community leaders who stood up publicly in support of working people; and we are hopeful that our members will choose to ratify the accord on January 6,” said 32BJ SEIU Vice President Rochelle Palache, who leads the union in Connecticut.

“This contract secures wage increases that allow our members to keep up with inflation, and it extends some important new benefits, like the Juneteenth holiday.  After the trials of the pandemic, which took many members’ lives and threatened countless more, it takes a big step toward ensuring a brighter future for them, their families, and their communities.”

The Central Connecticut contract is part of 32BJ’s campaign to win strong new contracts for over 70,000 building cleaners across the East Coast, which the union launched during Justice for Janitors Week in June. So far, 32BJ members in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Delaware have all reached and ratified agreements.

Two more contracts are still under negotiation this year, each to replace an agreement set to expire December 31. One is the new Tri-State agreement, which covers 1,400 cleaners in Fairfield County, Connecticut, plus 8,600 more in the Hudson Valley, Long Island, and across New Jersey; the other, an agreement for 20,000 cleaners in New York City.

The campaign will end with negotiations on a contract in Florida, whose current agreement expires at the end of February.

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Franklin Soults
Franklin Soults

Franklin Soults is 32BJ SEIU Regional Communications Manager.