by Héctor Figueroa
President, 32BJ SEIU
As snowstorm Juno covers the East Coast with snow, I am thinking about equal pay for equal work. I am thinking about New York City school cleaners who were out there, salting on Monday and shoveling on Tuesday and clearing again Wednesday morning so that kids and teachers can get to school and get back to learning. Every day this week I know I’ll be thinking about how hard New York City school cleaners work and how much they care… and about how many still aren’t getting paid what others who do the same job do; about how they deserve better.
While we negotiated a new school cleaner contract in November that includes raises, lump sum payments, and a bonus to cover the years of 2007 through 2016 – a huge improvement over years of stagnant wages — the new agreement still falls below the New York City prevailing wage. The November 2014 contract agreement with the city was always considered to be just one step in a longer march to equal pay for all our members. We still have nearly 4,200 32BJ school cleaners employed by Custodial Engineers making approximately 15% less than school cleaners who happen to work for private contractors.
Some men and women traveling through a blizzard to clear snow getting paid less than others traveling through a blizzard to clear snow, all because of an irregularity in the system.
Fortunately, we can fix this inequity. We can win the prevailing wage for all New York City school cleaners. We are going to win the prevailing wage for all New York City school cleaners! Next Monday, February 2 – a week after snowstorm Juno – the City Council will be hearing our arguments for improvements in the system and our case for the prevailing wage. We need all of you there – school cleaners, other commercial cleaners, anyone who believes that people should receive equal pay for equal work.
Mayor de Blasio has acknowledged the problem and committed to addressing the issue this year. We appreciate that promise, and continue to make sure all of our elected officials are educated and engaged around this important issue. Long before settling on our November agreement, 32BJ worked hard to line up support for a City Council bill that would clarify the Living Wage Law and ensure that 32BJ school members employed by the Custodial Engineers receive the prevailing wage. Throughout 2014 you and I marched, rallied and lobbied to gain support for this legislation. As of now, we have signed up 37 of 52 City Council Members to sponsor our resolution. It is clear we have broad political support for this logical move towards equity in the school system. Now it is time to get our voices heard.
I hope to see you next Monday to join our fight for the father working through the night to clear the snow, the mother doing overtime to keep conditions safe for the schoolchildren who greet her everyday. Now is the time for equal work for equal pay.