Published in the Bay State Banner, September 15, 2016
Photo by Karen Morales (at-large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley pictured)
“As I look out to all of you, I am reminded of what my parents fought for. They fought for dignity and family,” said Roxana Rivera, vice president of SEIU 32BJ, last Saturday to a crowd of 2,000 service workers and their supporters. Rain poured down on the scene but the music and chanting continued on.
The janitors and security officers of the 32BJ chapter of the Service Employees International Union had gathered around the Boston Common Parkman Bandstand to support a new contract proposal that would expand opportunities for full-time employment and ensure raises that keep up with cost of living in Boston.
The contract in question covers 13,000 workers who clean, maintain and protect over 2,000 buildings in the city, including the John Hancock Tower and the Prudential Tower. The current contract expires on September 30.
Senator Elizabeth Warren and city councilors Ayanna Pressley and Tito Jackson joined the rally to show their solidarity.
Members of SEIU 32BJ from all over New England also came out to support the cause.
“This sticking together thing is important to make sure that we have a country we can thrive in and raise families with dignity and respect,” said SEIU Executive Vice President Valarie Long.
Long observed that the movement was for more than just a contract. “It’s about immigrant rights, it’s about racial justice, it’s about environmental justice, it’s about economic justice,” she said. “Those things together — that’s what we’re fighting for.”
As the rain gave way to sunshine, an array of speakers, from union members to politicians, addressed the crowd.
“This city needs you,” said Senator Warren. “These gleaming towers around us — they wouldn’t be so gleaming if it weren’t for the people who work hard, who vacuumed, who emptied the trash, who kept it all going for the rest of us.”
Senator Warren said that her father was a janitor and she witnessed firsthand the backbreaking work of a service worker. “In this fight for fair wages, I’m with you,” she said.
“This is not a fight for charity,” said Pressley. “It’s about what you and your families have earned.”
The union’s proposals also include expanding employer-paid health care to family members of full-time workers. Janitors and security officers have experienced employers who deliberately limit workers to part-time shifts, so as to shirk responsibility for providing healthcare to employees.
SEIU 32BJ also emphasized the post-recession era and Boston’s strong commercial real estate industry, with its low vacancy rents and high rents.
“The promise of America is for everyone, including the thousands of men and women who clean and maintain office buildings and college campuses in Massachusetts,” said Rivera.
After the remarks, thousands of SEIU 32BJ members and supporters proceeded from Boston Common down Newbury Street to Copley Square.
32BJ is the largest property service workers union in the country, with 155,000 members in eleven states and Washington D.C.