32BJ’s leaders are not telling the truth about their proposed new contract with the real estate and cleaning company bosses. President Mike Fishman, Secretary-Treasurer Héctor Figueroa and the rest of the union leadership are claiming that they won a great contract “victory” guaranteeing “economic gains every year” with “no givebacks,” “protecting more than 22,000 good jobs.”
The truth, however, is that under Fishman & Co.’s proposed contract, all 32BJ members will feel the pain of economic losses. Strangled by inflation, the real value of members’ wages and pensions will fall in every year of the proposed contract.
The biggest givebacks in the contract, however, target workers who are hired during it. Fishman & Co.’s proposed contract will immediately cut the wages of new hires and force them to work for less than full pay for a year longer than is currently required.
Other givebacks will hit both new hires and current workers. For example, the proposed contract gives away premium pay rates for weekend work in all new buildings, seemingly regardless of workers’ seniority. In fact, the union has signaled to the bosses that it is open to cutting all the wages and benefits of workers in new buildings “on a project-by-project basis.”
As for “protecting jobs,” by cutting the wages of new hires even further, the proposed contract gives the bosses new incentive to fire currently employed workers so as to replace them with cheaper new hires. Of course, such firings and hirings would be in breach of the contract, but 32BJ members know that this happens all the time and the union does not organize the workers in a fight to stop it.
Indeed 32BJ members should take note that while Fishman & Co.’s last contract claimed to protect more than 26,000 jobs, this time they claim to protect only 22,000. Recent years have seen so many members laid off or fired without the union leadership trying to organize a serious struggle to save their jobs.
The greatest setback from Fishman & Co.’s sellout contract, however, is the way it undermines what could have been an important step forward for working-class people to begin to unite and fight back against capitalist profiteering exploitation and injustice. When 32BJ’s leaders called for protest marches for this contract, it was the first time many 32BJ members had heard from their union in years. 32BJ’s leaders do little to organize workers and encourage struggle against the bosses besides at contract time. Instead, they mostly abandon workers to the bosses’ day-to-day exploitation and harassment, leaving them feeling isolated and weak.
The few contract rallies and marches the union held gave thousands of 32BJ workers a chance to voice their concerns and feel a little of the power they have when united in action. If these mobilizations continued they could have helped empower and organize 32BJ workers to continue to defend themselves against the bosses.
Also, 32BJ’s brief contract struggle took place at a time when more and more American workers were making it clear that they are angry at the injustice of capitalist banks and business getting bailed out of bankruptcy with trillions of taxpayers’ dollars, while working people are being made to pay the price of the economic crisis. The “Occupy Wall Street” protests at the power center of capitalism’s financial wealth proved popular with the working class. A strike by 32BJ against the big capitalist real estate and cleaning company bosses could have inspired great support from the rest of the working class. It could have shown the way forward in defending their jobs and living conditions with mass action including protests and strikes. Fishman’s sellout ruined this possibility.
We socialist workers of the League for the Revolutionary Party, including members of 32BJ and other unions in the city, urge 32BJ members to vote “NO” to reject this proposed contract. We expect the proposed contract will pass, especially considering the way that the leadership has misrepresented its contents and effectively bribed members to vote “YES” with the promise of the $600 ratification bonus. But every “NO” vote cast will send a message that 32BJ members are waking up to the Fishman leadership’s betrayals. Militant workers who want to put an end to sellout deals with the bosses and see powerful, united struggles against the bosses’ attacks can use the campaign to expose the truth about the contract, and make contact with one another to begin discussing the way forward.
For sure, the bosses got far less that they were demanding. They were probably surprised by how strongly 32BJ members mobilized for protests and voted to authorize a strike. They were aware that the “Occupy Wall Street” had signaled a growing anger at the injustice of capitalist profit-making at working people’s expense. They were probably concerned that if 32BJ went on strike, it could spark an even bigger fightback. This potential was reinforced when unions representing private trash collection workers pledged to not cross 32BJ picket lines if there was a strike. All this shows the potential for workers to defend their interests by organizing struggles against the bosses.
At the same time, it is important to realize that the bosses always demand more than they really plan to try to get in contract negotiations. They do that for two reasons: 1) to try to scare the workers; and 2) to help the union leaders look good if they agree to some of the givebacks they demanded.
Having finally received the details of Fishman & Co.’s proposed contract with the bosses (after almost two weeks’ delay), here is what we know:
At the outset of these contract negotiations, the bosses demanded the creation of a new tier of permanently underpaid workers with no healthcare or pension benefits. The union leadership now claims to have defeated this demand. But the truth is that they made big concessions in this area. They agreed to deepening the already existing tier system for new hires. In the last contract, new hires had to work for 30 months while earning 20% less than other workers before they could hope to earn full pay. Bosses have already been abusing this system, laying off and rehiring workers to keep them at the lower rate.
Under the new contract, new hires would now have to work for 42 months before earning full pay! That’s three and a half years! For the first 21 months they will earn 25% less than other workers, and then for the next 21 months they’ll earn 15% less. This means that in their first 42 months of work, new hires will lose around $10,000 compared to what they would have earned under the old contract, and earning well over $30,000 less than other 32BJ workers over the similar period of time.
And the union leadership dares to say that there are no givebacks in their proposed contract! Shame on them!
These givebacks by the 32BJ leadership are a terrible attack on the living standards of new hires. They also endanger the jobs of current full-time workers. If new hires are paid less than more senior workers, the bosses have a big reason to fire currently employed workers in order to replace them with the cheaper workers.
When it comes to wages, the 32BJ leadership agreed to accept a wage freeze the first year, and then tiny raises over the next three years, averaging only slightly more than 1% per year over the life of the contract. In our last Contract Bulletin we warned:
The cost of living is currently rising at an official rate of 3%. Anything less than a 3% yearly raise is in reality a big pay cut and should be rejected.
At the 32BJ strike authorization meeting at the Sheraton Hotel on December 1, President Fishman talked about 32BJ’s last contract deal and its 4% yearly wage raises and said this:
We didn’t do great, because prices have gone up drastically. If you have a car, you have to pay for fuel and its price is up 44%. Food, bread: 22%. Coffee ... 25% more ... Metrocard: 37% ... Electricity ... your Con-Ed bill ... went up 20% in the last 4 years. Milk, we need it for our kids, and we needed it for our bones: 21% increase. That’s what happened. When we got our 4% wages, we got this. We got hit with this, and this is eating up every penny we all have ...
If Fishman was to remain true to what he said about 32BJ’s last contract, he would admit that this new deal is even worse. Instead, he’s lying to workers, telling them that they will be making economic gains. Shame!
To make this deal seem a little better, and to help get workers to vote for it, workers would receive a $600 bonus in the contract’s first year and a $500 bonus in its second – though after taxes are deducted they will see a lot less of that money. But bonuses like these are used by the bosses to avoid adding to workers’ base pay, meaning that future percentage wage increases do not include these amounts.
As Chairman of the 32BJ pension fund, President Fishman allowed the bosses to contribute less and less to the pension fund until it was approaching bankruptcy. That’s when the fund managers were legally compelled to send a letter to all members informing them of the financial danger.
The law demands that the bosses keep the pension fund solvent. Fishman & Co.’s proposed contract helps the bosses achieve this by offsetting their increased payments with an agreement to freeze the value of workers’ pensions, despite the rising cost of living. Currently, after 25 years of full-time work, 32BJ members can hope to retire with a maximum pension of just $1,400 a month – barely enough to survive on, even when supplemented by Social Security and welfare payments. And Fishman’s proposed contract will allow this already inadequate pension plan to lose value even faster than workers’ wages!
Also, the bosses’ pathetically low payments into workers’ 401K plans will remain frozen, as they have been at least since 2005!
Fishman & Co. claim to have protected workers’ healthcare. The bosses’ will be increasing their payments to the healthcare fund by 4% a year. That can sound good until you realize that it is generally recognized that healthcare costs are increasing at a rate of 9% a year. The fact that the bosses’ payments into our healthcare fund will inevitably fall behind the costs raises the prospect of the union once again agreeing to cost-cutting changes that effect our healthcare, under the powers of their “Health Fund Study Committee.” Moreover, the proposed contract allows the bosses to effectively pass on to workers any new costs of they may face as a result of the White House’s new healthcare reform by cutting their payments to the healthcare fund to compensate, or by directly cutting benefits.
One striking feature of the proposed contract is the creation of a “New Development Committee” including representatives of both the union and the bosses for the purpose of negotiating “on a project-by-project basis, wage and benefit standards.” New building projects currently underway in the city like the new World Trade Center and the new Atlantic Yards/Nets’ Stadium Complex in Brooklyn could have been a great source of new good-paying jobs and renewed strength for 32BJ. Instead, the Fishman leadership are using them as an opportunity to negotiate lower wages and benefits for workers. This is made clear by the fact that they already volunteer in this contract to give up premium pay for weekend work in all new buildings.
Behind President Fishman and the other 32BJ leaders betrayals of their members, like the betrayals of so many other union leaders, is the fact that they see no alternative to the capitalist system – the source of the misery of low wage jobs and unemployment, imperialist wars, and growing poverty in the U.S. and worse around the world. In fact, the trade union bureaucrats enjoy privileged positions as deal-makers between the workers and the bosses. When the bosses’ needs for profit require cuts to workers’ wages, the union leaders inevitably try to help them. Moreover, many union officials make salaries of hundreds of thousands of dollars – money taken out of workers’ dues. No wonder these bureaucrats are committed to tying workers to capitalism.
Like many capitalists, Fishman & Co. are big supporters of the Democratic Party, as is the whole SEIU. The Democratic Party, like the Republicans, has repeatedly confirmed that it is no friend of the working class. In the states and on the Federal level, the Democrats have joined the Republicans in bailing out the banks and corporations with billions of taxpayers’ dollars. They have initiated and gone along with big budget cuts that hurt the working class and the poor the most. Senator Schumer and Governor Cuomo are big backers of Wall Street, a dominant capitalist force in New York politics. President Obama has overseen a great escalation in the deportation of immigrant workers. These are just some examples of the injustices perpetrated by the pro-capitalist Democratic Party, along with the Republican Party.
In their role as negotiators or brokers between the bosses and the workers, the union bureaucrats have done a good job of pacifying many workers for the past few decades. This is going to change, and the working class is going to see that when united our class has tremendous power. When more workers reach this understanding, they will also see that the building of a revolutionary party, to lead the struggles of the workers and the poor forward to socialist revolution, is not a dream, but rather is possible and necessary.
Right now though, obviously the majority of workers don’t agree with the revolutionary socialist perspective. But that is not an obstacle to building a united defense against the bosses. During the recent contract struggle we made proposals to unite all 32BJ members against the real estate and cleaning company bosses. We will continue to be ready to join with workers in defense of their basic interests in the future, regardless of other different ideas.
At the same time, right now, workers who do already see the need for revolutionary political goals, have to come together to build the revolutionary political party. The longer the working class is saddled with pro-capitalist leaders like the union officials and the politicians of the Democratic and Republican parties, the harder life will be for all of us. Thus, we encourage every worker interested in our ideas to contact us. There isn’t any time to waste!
1. See 32BJ Press Release, December 30, 2011, www.standwithbuildingworkers.org/2011/12/new-years-strike-averted/; and 32BJ leaflet 91928/E, “Local 32BJ Contract Victory”.
2. Point 9, Article XIX, “Stipulation of Agreement,” p. 14; available on the internet at www.standwithbuildingworkers.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/NYM_Stipulation-of-Agreement.pdf.
3. Point 16, B, “Stipulation of Agreement,” p. 7.
4. Point 16, A, “Stipulation of Agreement,” p. 7.
5. Reed Abelson, “Health Insurance Costs Rising Sharply This Year, Study Shows,” New York Times, September 27, 2011.
6. Point 5, B, “Stipulation of Agreement,” p.2.
7. Point 4, Article XI, “Stipulation of Agreement,” pp. 9-10.
8. Point 16, A, “Stipulation of Agreement,” p. 7.