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NYC Cleaners' Union Votes To Authorize Strike If Necessary; Unions Protest Economic Conditions

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A New York City cleaners union voted Thursday to authorize a strike, if necessary, that could potentially affect 1,500 commercial office buildings in the city.

Thousands of office cleaners and commercials building workers with the 32BJ Service Employees International Union  voted to allow their bargaining committee to call a strike.  That strike could involve about 22,000 workers if there is a failure to reach a new contract by 12:01 a.m. on January 1, 2012.

Cleaning union workers marched Thursday afternoon from 34th Street to Union Square in opposition to a proposed wage and benefit structure that the union says is "aimed at creating a lower second class of workers."

The march was a part of a larger protest organized by the New York Central Labor Council, 1010 WINS' Eileen Lehpamer reported.

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CBS 2's Derricke Dennis was live on the scene as workers marched on Broadway.  Various union groups participated in the march, including healthcare workers and teachers.  Even some Occupy Wall Street members joined the protest.

Demonstrators said they wanted to get the attention of government and corporate leaders to create more jobs.

"It's an injustice what's happening to the families all over the world. In this country, that they can't feed their children, that children are not being educated, that they're dumbing America down by taking money away from the city schools," one woman told Dennis.

"We have people making all this money and we have millions out of work and it's not fair.  We're not taking it no more," said another woman.

"The real estate industry's demands to roll back the wage and benefit standards of lower middle class workers are unacceptable," Mike Fishman, president of the union, said in a statement. "Today's strike vote shows we are determined to keep our city a place that working families can afford to call home."

The union says that is against the proposal because it would be things harder for current and new workers to make a living in New York City.

"A two-tier wage system would be a giant leap backward for all workers because it drives down wages and benefits for years to come," Fishman said. "The industry's sole purpose in creating a second tier of workers is to replace the first tier with lower paid workers."

Marchers Said They Want Justice. WCBS 880's Marla Diamond Reports


The union says that the highest rate for its cleaners is $22.65 per hour, which amounts to about $47,000 annually.  That is a number that the union says is "significantly less than the household income that independent researchers have shown is necessary to support a family of four."

"Nobody wants a strike -- least of all the men and women who keep New York City's office buildings clean, but we must prepare for one if building owners insist on taking us down that path," Fishman said.

Cleaner's Union March
(credit: Malgorzata Zielinska)

Do you think the workers will go on strike?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below...

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