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32BJ school cleaners want pension boost


School cleaners and handypersons rallied Tuesday near City Hall for a contract that improves their pensions — and it won’t cost the city anything, according to their union Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ.

The workers are demanding increases to their pensions, which haven’t changed since 2018. The contract, which covers more than 5,000 school cleaners and handypersons who work in the city’s 1,800 public schools, is set to expire June 30.

“We deserve this pension improvement,” said Kevin Jefferson, a handyperson at P.S. 2 in Manhattan. “I gave 25 years of my life to them, I expect to retire with some dignity and some respect for the services that I gave to the school system.”

The union began bargaining in March with New York City School Support Services, which contracts with the city public school system. The workers earn prevailing wages and supplemental benefits – cleaners are paid $29.90 an hour, while handypersons earn an hourly wage of $32.62. Their salaries were determined last December by the commercial contract agreement between 32BJ SEIU and the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations.

But as part of its negotiations with New York City School Support Services, 32BJ wants to reallocate a larger portion of the prevailing wage supplemental benefits funds to the workers’ pensions.

“A pension improvement will not cost the city a penny more. Because this is a prevailing wage contract, and we can take money and reallocate it to pensions. But the employer has to agree,” said Shirley Aldebol, 32BJ’s vice-president and director of the union’s public schools division. “We think we’re going to have to fight for it, because they’re pushing back.”

New York City School Support Services did not return a request for comment.

Although the union’s last contract was negotiated in 2020, the workers did not see any pension improvements in that labor agreement, Aldebol explained.

Union members and elected officials argued that the workers deserve the pension improvements because they worked in school buildings that were converted into feeding centers and testing hubs during the pandemic. Recently, schools have also housed migrants during bad storms.

“We owe these members a debt of gratitude for being frontline workers in the pandemic. The schools have become a community hub – feeding people, welcoming people in when there is no other place to go,” said City Council member Carmen De La Rosa, who chairs the labor committee. “We’re here today because we’re calling on the School Support Services to do what’s right and to make sure that when you get ready for retirement that your pensions reflect your sacrifices.”

Following the rally, the workers marched to the steps of Tweed Courthouse and chanted. Eric Hargrove, a cleaner at P.S. 264 in Bay Ridge, who is also a member of the bargaining committee, said that he was ready to fight for the pensions they deserved.

“We work into the night. Our work makes school possible, as well as community, afterschool and summer programs,” he said.

Jefferson noted that handypersons perform a wide range of trades at schools, including masonry, electrical, carpentry, floor tiling and ceiling installation.

“Many people don’t know that … any school that is under 5,500 square feet is being run by a handyperson. Schools cannot open and function without our people,” Aldebol added.

The union is also seeking a contract that maintains the workers’ full health-care benefits and boosts health and safety protections. But the pension improvements were “number one thing” that the members wanted when they were surveyed, Aldebol explained. “It’s really important.”


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  • They deserve a good pension just like other civil servants. They provide effective work and should be recogonize for those efforts. This is where our tax dollars should be going for the service they maintain and provide not to some CEO political connected leadership that never appreciates the behind the scenes dedication! I’m all for them getting a good contract , Pension improvements and health care. Stop delaying!!!!!!!!

    Wednesday, May 29 Report this