Janitors who may strike to defend wages and working conditions march with Occupy Wall St.


Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, JOURNALIST: In New York Thursday, organized labor and the Occupy movement joined forces as part of the March for Jobs and Economic Fairness. Thousands of union members and Occupy protesters highlighted how the concentration of economic power translates into a lack of meaningful employment opportunities across the nation, and especially in New York, which leads the nation in income inequality. Taking part in the march was SEIU Local 32BJ which represents 22,000 office cleaners and porters who service 1,500 New York corporate office buildings. Though they haven’t been on strike in 15 years, before the march, union members voted to authorize one if current contract negotiations fail. Landlords are demanding concessions, but workers say they’re going to fight for cost-of-living increases and to preserve worker benefits.

ANNA, SEIU LOCAL 32BJ: We’re just fighting for our rights, and we want to our standards, you know, to make it to live in New York City, because it’s not enough, what they giving to us–$47,000, what we’re earning, it’s not enough to live in here. And we’re fighting for good wages; for–have insurance is the most important in New York; and for our benefits, what we need, like sick days, vacation.

DENNIS RODRIGUEZ, SEIU LOCAL 32BJ: I’m here for the simple fact that they want to cut back our wages. They want us to pay for our health care. They want us to pay for our retirement. But yet they’re cutting back everything. They want us to also–they want to eliminate the tier and make you work five years before you qualify for starting a pension. So that means you would have to put 30 years to get your pension. That’s why I’m here. I’m hoping they understand that we need help.

NOOR: The Realty Advisory Board, which represents the building owners, says the economic downturn needs to be reflected in a new worker contract. But Matt Nerzig, a spokesman for 32BJ, disagrees.

MATT NERZIG, SEIU SPOKESPERSON: The owners are claiming tough economic times, but what we’re talking about here is a $20 billion industry. This industry is doing fine. This is not a beleaguered, decimated industry like we see with the auto industry or the steel industry or the airlines. This is a $20 billion industry. It’s the top-rated commercial real estate industry in the world. So there’s no problem here. They certainly have the capacity to pay. And all we’re asking for is to maintain our existence here in New York, to keep in line with the projects that we’ve had in the past by providing a contract that beats the cost of living and provides them with the basic core benefits to make ends meet here in the most expensive city in the world.

NOOR: Timothy Lynch, president of Teamsters Local 1205, says he and his union will stand in solidarity if 32BJ goes on strike.

TIMOTHY LYNCH, PRESIDENT, TEAMSTERS LOCAL 1205: Their fight is our fight. The motto of our union is an injury to one is an injury to all. And if the people at 32BJ go out, the Teamsters will honor those picket lines at every single building in the City of New York, and we will not back down until every one of those courageous workers gets the decent contract they deserve. The landlords of America, who never opened a door or took garbage to the street in their working lives, are making millions and millions of dollars while working people are struggling to feed their families. And it’s outrageous that they have so much profits that they’re sitting on, and they won’t give these courageous men and women a decent contract.

NOOR: Occupy organizer Justin Wedes says despite setbacks, including evictions from encampments across the country, the Occupy movement is gaining strength by fighting for working class Americans.

JUSTIN WEDES, OCCUPY WALL STREET PARTICIPANT: I think Occupy Wall Street, which is now really the Occupy movement in hundreds of cities across the country, really thousands of cities across the world, has really grown into its own, has matured, has turned into a really strong platform for organizing, for social justice, and for bringing to the forefront of our public dialog these crucially important issues of how do we drive our country forward in the coming months and the coming years. That has been through the work of labor, through the work of grassroots organizers on the ground, and just people coming out, the 99 percent coming out to their local occupations, and also all of the other places where organizing is going on. It’s not just in the parks.

NOOR: Both workers and building owners are preparing for the possibility of a strike, which could begin if a deal is not reached by January 1. Reporting for The Real News, this is Jaisal Noor in New York.

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