Unionized office cleaners, maintenance workers in Philadelphia rally to demand new contract

Union members filled the streets of Center City Tuesday in a large and loud protest for a new contract for office cleaners and maintenance workers.

The march kicked-off at 18th and JFK Boulevard as unionized office cleaners filled the streets and shouted words of protest. They stopped at the base of a Comcast Tower, one of many city buildings they clean, where workers told FOX 29 they are working harder than ever. 

"We are their foundation," said Audra Traynham, who cleans medical buildings in University City. "We empty trash, we vacuum, we dust, we sanitize restrooms, we keep all that clean."

But with the growth of remote work leaving office towers with fewer tenants, the union said building owners are pressing for cuts in work hours and pay meaning less job security.

Manny Pastreich is the President Local 32BJ. He said the union members are "fighting to protect their pay, fighting to protect their hours, fighting to get rewarded for being the essential workers who worked through the pandemic."

Union leadership says 2-thousand Philadelphia office cleaners are in talks for a new contract joining 70-thousand workers up and down the East Coast whose contracts expire by the end of the year.  

In a statement, Daniel Brighter, the President of Building Operators Labor Relations, representing building owners, writes they, "…remain committed to working in good faith throughout the negotiations to achieve an agreement that is acceptable to both parties…"

The union showed its muscle loudly clogging streets and drawing Democratic politicians including candidate for Mayor Cherelle Parker. Parker said, "we need to make fiscal stability our number one priority but it’s not an either or. We can support a municipal workforce, the private sector and service industry."

Parker’s Republican opponent said a safe city is vital for all workers. David Oh said, "fighting crime, stopping crime, cleaning up the city and make sure people are safe. Having a shootout at Independence Hall is not a good message."

The union sees the Philly contract as a test case, a battle to grind out a good deal in a tough environment, with talks in other cities looming.