Midtown cleaning crews strike after building’s new owner slashes wages, benefits

About seven workers responsible for keeping a midtown Manhattan office tower clean went on strike Tuesday afternoon, saying their pay has been slashed and benefits dropped since a new owner purchased the building this summer.

Union officials and supporters of 32BJ SEIU rallied outside the building earlier in the day, calling on APF Properties and Premier Building Services to honor the union wages and benefits the workers had received for years.

Carmelo Vargas, who works as a porter in the building, said he is worried about how he will pay for his wife’s medical care with a smaller salary and no benefits.

His wife has diabetes and the cost of her medicine is $200 or $300 a month.

“I like my work, I want to stay here,” said Vargas, 50, who lives in Astoria. “But I will have to look for another job in the morning and work here at night.”

APF Properties recently purchased the 19-story building off Madison Avenue and 34th Street for $222.5 million. According to officials at the union, APF changed cleaning contract services to Premier, which did not want to provide the union wages.

APF and Premier did not respond to calls and emails for comment.

“Many of the workers have been in this building for over 25 years,” said Denis Johnston, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, who said Premier offered an hourly rate of about $15 an hour, down from the $25 an hour workers had previously earned.

Union officials said seven workers with evening shifts started the strike on Tuesday afternoon. The three day-shift workers were scheduled to join the strike on Wednesday morning.

“Our union has fought really hard to make sure working men and women can afford to live in the city,” Johnston said. “This is really breaking that social contract between building owners and the working people who are increasingly being pushed out of the city because of the rising cost of housing. This is an incredibly expensive city.”

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and City Councilman Keith Powers stopped by the rally to show their support.

Sadeta Hasanovic, 42, has worked at 183 Madison Avenue as a cleaner for more than 20 years, and said she worries about how she will pay for her mortgage and college for her children.

“The first check I received was like half of what I used to get,” said Hasanovic, as she fought back tears. “Everything is in jeopardy — my mortgage, my loan, my kids’ education.”

“We love working here,” she added. “I feel like it’s not just losing a job, I am losing my family.”