On National Custodial Workers Recognition Day, a large group of office cleaners came together to march through downtown D.C., pushing for higher wages among other provisions in their new union contract.
The union, 32BJ SEIU, said it remains at odds on some key issues with the Washington Service Contractors Association during negotiations. The association represents 24 business in the D.C. and Baltimore areas.
Ahead of the Oct. 15 expiration of the current contact, the union held a strike vote at Franklin Square before marching during the afternoon rush.
The association wants to cut five-hour shifts down to four, the union said, which workers say would result in a 20% pay cut for just over a thousand workers and would force them to do more work in less time.
The union also wants raises for workers who it says currently make $17.95 an hour in D.C., when similar workers make over $20 in cities like Philadelphia. The raises are needed, the union says, as the workers — many of whom are immigrants — struggle to pay the increasing rents in the D.C. area.
“These workers are tired, they worked through the pandemic, they showed up to work during the pandemic — risking their lives, their family’s lives,” said Jaime Contreras, who heads 32BJ’s Capital Area District. “Now it’s time for the companies to recognize that sacrifice.”
Several members of the DC Council spoke in support of the workers during a rally that preceded the march.
“We want to make sure our workers are treated right,” said Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen.
Ward 1 Council member Brianne Nadeau said she came out to show support for the workers who often go unnoticed.
“I am glad to be here today to show support and let the employers know that our politicians are behind our workers,” Nadeau said.
Council Chair Phil Mendelson and at-large Council member Kenyan McDuffie also took the stage to show their support for the workers.
Lead negotiator for the association, Peter Chatilovicz, said negotiations continued on Monday and a good deal of the day involved some “hard bargaining” as they got down to issues that were important to both sides.
“The parties are still really quite far apart in wages, although benefits seem likely to fall into place,” Chatilovicz said.
Worker Wendy Diaz of Severn, Maryland, said through a translator that she came out to show company owners they are willing to do what it takes to get a “fair contract.”
Ana Hernandez of Silver Spring, Maryland, said since the pandemic, cleaning crews are working with fewer people.
“We need more people,” Hernandez said.
While Chatilovicz said there is always concern you won’t reach an agreement, he added that in the past, both sides have reached a compromise that both parties “can live with.”
If a deal isn’t made, the union says it will be ready to go on strike.