New York, NY – Building service workers tasked with keeping Con Edison offices safe and orderly are living lives of quiet desperation, struggling without health insurance, the ability to claim sick days and, in many cases, earning minimum wage salaries despite being on the job for more than a decade. And Con Ed’s response? Not our problem.
This past spring, the ongoing plight of some 2,000 janitors and security officers working at privately-owned utility companies including Con Edison, moved both the NYS Assembly and Senate to pass legislation calling for the workers to be paid the prevailing wage.
That legislation is now sitting on Governor Cuomo’s desk awaiting his signature. On Tuesday afternoon, Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou [D-65th District], sponsor to the bill in the lower chamber, joined members of 32BJ SEIU and affected building cleaners and security offices in a rally outside Con Ed’s 4 Irving Place HQ, urging Cuomo to sign the bill.
“We need to fight for this bill,” Niou told a vociferous crowd of about 50 32BJ purple-clad demonstrators rallying on the corner of Irving Place and E. 14th Street. “Fair wages result in an increased quality of life for public utility workers. Providing a fair wage also helps companies who will see less turnover and increased worker satisfaction, productivity and efficiency.”
32BJ, the largest property services union in the U.S. with more than 175,000 members in 11 states, strongly supports the bill, arguing that as a monopoly, “Con Edison has refused to reciprocate the public support it receives and has allowed its contractors to pay workers the minimum wage, with few, if any benefits.”
“Con Edison is a monopoly that operates on city property and they have to do better when they’re using their subcontractor Nelson and Imperial,” City Council Member Ben Kallos [D-5th District] told this week’s rally. “They can’t pay just minimum wage, they can’t ignore health benefits.”
But Con Ed doesn’t see it that way. The giant utility company subcontracts building services work to two subcontractors: Imperial and Nelson. When asked why Con Ed doesn’t already pay building cleaners and security officers prevailing wages and benefits, Phil O’Brien, Con Ed’s assistant director of Media Relations, curtly told LaborPress, “This is a matter between the workers and their employer.”
“Con Edison is just letting this happen,” Assembly Member Niou said. “Companies like Imperial and Nelson choose to sacrifice their workers in favor of cutting corners and saving more money. And Con Ed just lets it happen.”
Building services worker Carlos Ramirez said that he must work overtime or a second job just to scrape by, and that he hopes with the “Constitution and democracy in this country, we can have a living wage that allows ups to live with dignity.”
“Clearly, we have a problem here with Con Edison,” Assembly Member Harvey Epstein [D-74th Assembly District] said.
According to Council Member Kallos, Con Ed might even be breaking the law.
“I am horrified to hear on Con Ed sites, workers like Carlos and so many of you here aren’t able to use the Paid Sick Leave law. That’s illegal, and most people get put behind bars for violating the law,” Kallos said.
Assembly Member Niou told LaborPress that she is unaware of any issues the governor might have with signing the bill, and hopes that Cuomo does, indeed, sign it soon.
“He hasn’t said anything to me yet,” Niou said. “I think that it’s really important that we get the bill signed. We obviously got it passed in both houses, right now there haven’t been any issues or conversations, if there are any comments or changes.”
When asked about the status of the bill, the governor’s office said it is under review, but did not indicate when action might be forthcoming.