About 1,200 union janitors in Pittsburgh have ratified what they called a “historic” contract that will help Pennsylvania set the standard for tens of thousands of commercial cleaning workers across the country. 

Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ on Wednesday announced that its Pittsburgh members accepted a four-year deal with the Managers Owners and Contractors Association.

“We are the reason Downtown survived the pandemic, and we will be the reason it comes back stronger than ever,” said Steve Kelley, a 32BJ SEIU office cleaner and bargaining committee member. “This agreement feels like we’re getting the recognition we deserve for all our sacrifices.”

Steve Kelley, right, a 32BJ SEIU office cleaner and bargaining committee member, leads a march of union members in Downtown Pittsburgh shortly before beginning bargaining for a new contract on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (32BJ SEIU)

Members of 32BJ SEIU clean and maintain nearly every major building from Downtown to the suburbs. They are responsible for sanitizing office buildings, public bathrooms and lobbies, cleaning the sidewalks and outside areas of buildings, removing trash, and cleaning the elevators and stairways, among other duties.

The workers will see pay hikes, better benefits and job protections from the agreement, according to the union.

The deal includes wage increases from 16% to 21% over the course of the contract; provides protection of 100% employer-paid family health care; adds a third week of vacation for suburban members with eight or more years experience; strengthens protections for pregnant workers; makes improvements to pension benefits and enhances job protections; and more. 

“We are literally on the front lines doing our part to keep the city clean and safe,” said Julie Ashade, a32BJ SEIU bargaining committee member and office cleaner. “We won a great contract that invests in us, now we need to finish the job by ensuring that the city, state and others continue to invest in infrastructure and programming for our Downtown community.”

Manny Pastreich, president of 32BJ SEIU, speaks to union members gathered for a contract ratification vote in the Omni William Penn’s Urban Room. (32BJ SEIU)

The union said its members partnered with the real estate industry to implement new public health protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic that allowed buildings to reopen safely. They also created partnerships with building owners, Downtown stakeholders and other unions to develop a plan for the Golden Triangle, “knowing that full recovery from the pandemic will require bold vision and creative investments in the Central Business District,” the union said. 

Mayor Ed Gainey, whose campaign for mayor was backed by the union, hailed the agreement as “a powerful testament to the indispensable role that 32BJ SEIU members have played in the face of unprecedented challenges during the pandemic.”

“As workers nationwide grapple with challenges to their rights and hard-fought labor standards, you came together to win a contract that serves as inspiration for all working people,” Gainey said. “This agreement shows that when workers come together in solidarity to assert their worth and respect, they win.”

SEIU 32BJ said the Pittsburgh contract represents one of several agreements being negotiated in 2023 and 2024 that will cover approximately 70,000 commercial office cleaners throughout the eastern United States. 

The 2,000 32BJ SEIU workers in Philadelphia also ratified a new contract this month.  

The Managers Owners and Contractors Association could not be reached for comment. 

Andrew writes about education and more for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at agoldstein@unionprogress.com.

Andrew Goldstein

Andrew writes about education and more for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at agoldstein@unionprogress.com.