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Cleaners for 1,300 NYC office buildings avert New Year’s Eve strike in ‘totally unexpected’ deal

Negotiators for New York City offices and the union that represents 20,000 cleaning and custodial workers averted a strike early Thursday morning, ending tense contract negotiations that lasted more than a month-and-a-half.

The Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ’s current contract was approaching an expiration date on New Year’s Eve, but a “totally unexpected” deal ended a deadlock between the union and their employers, the Realty Board on Labor Relations, according to union spokesperson Simon Davis-Cohen.

“It is fitting that we are closing out a year marked by worker mobilization with a victory for 20,000 working New Yorkers who form the backbone of this city’s economy and commercial real estate market,” union president Manny Pastreich said in a statement.

The tentative agreement includes the continuation of existing health benefits — which was in jeopardy after the Realty Board proposed members would have to start paying a share of their premiums — wage increases over a four-year period, signing bonuses, a 10% pension improvement.

Pastreich said negotiators agreed on the health benefit coverage just 30 minutes before reaching their deal.

Around midday on Wednesday, Pastreich said the union was poised to strike over health insurance and remote work challenges that weren’t yet agreed upon. But after the negotiators “got over the hard stuff,” bargaining started to move in a positive direction, ultimately leading to a deal just before 1 a.m., he said.

32BJ union members will vote on whether to ratify the tentative agreement in the coming weeks. The contract would last until New Year’s Eve of 2027.

“We’re proud to come to an agreement that reflects the economic realities that commercial real estate faces by creating the flexibility the industry needs to survive for the long-term,” said Realty Board President Howard Rothschild. The organization represents building owners and operators in negotiations. Rothschild had previously said high office vacancies and low rents made it difficult to offer the same sorts of benefits cleaners secured in their previous contract from 2019.

The union also secured other incentives, including an early retirement program for members above the age of 60 who have worked for more than 15 years.

“The money isn’t complicated, we may agree or disagree, but it’s not complicated,” Pastreich said of the negotiation process. He described it in three phases: the “frustration stage” where nothing is advancing, the “critical phase” when negotiators can start to narrow in on a deal and the “excitement phase” when the deal starts to come together.

“The feeling at the end was so positive. … I think it was mutual,” Pastreich said.

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