Office Owners and Cleaners Reach a Deal, Averting a Strike

The union representing some 22,000 cleaners and other workers at 1,500 New York City office buildings has reached a tentative deal with the building owners, averting a possible strike.

With the owners pressing for a permanent two-tiered wage system and demanding that workers contribute toward their health benefits, the union, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, had threatened to strike when the old contract expired, at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

But in negotiations that concluded late Friday night, the building owners and operators, represented by the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, agreed to retain employer-paid health care coverage and to increase the workers’ wages by 5.6 percent over the four years of the new contract.

“We’re very happy with this agreement,” said Matt Nerzig, a spokesman for the union, which represents workers at buildings in all five boroughs. “It protects the lower-middle-class jobs, and that’s what we set out to do. It gets workers money over each of the four years; it helps them to keep pace with the cost of living in New York.”

The union did make a concession on the wage issue, however. The owners, claiming a high vacancy rate of office space and significantly lower rents since 2007, had fought for a two-tier wage system, under which new employees would be paid less than existing employees. Under Friday’s agreement, new workers would be paid 25 percent less than the standard salary for 21 months; their salaries would rise to full pay after 42 months, which was in line with agreements from past years, according to Mr. Nerzig.

Under the old contract, new workers were paid 20 percent less than the full salary for 30 months.

The agreement, which must still be ratified by the union members, would raise the average wage from about $47,000, increasing it incrementally over the last three of the contract’s four years. There would be no wage increase in 2012, though workers would receive a $600 bonus that year and a second one, of $500, in 2013.

Among other demands by the owners was the elimination of automatic contributions, in each paycheck, to the union’s political action fund. That demand was dropped.

The previous contract was signed in 2007, when the city’s real estate market was at its height, and in negotiations the owners cited the severe recession that followed in making their case for concessions. The market, however, has recovered substantially.

In a statement, Howard Rothschild, president of the Realty Advisory Board, praised the deal. “The agreement protects workers’ wages and benefits,” he said, “and provides crucial cost savings to building owners, who have been battered in this deep recession.”

Charles V. Bagli contributed reporting.

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