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59M SF Of South Florida Office Buildings Could Face Janitor Strike

Up to 59M SF of office space in Fort Lauderdale and Miami could be left without cleaning services as a labor dispute threatens to lead to a strike as early as next week. 

Members of the union representing around 1,500 janitors marched through Miami Wednesday after voting to authorize a strike.

Around 1,500 janitors for commercial buildings represented by the 32BJ Service Employees International Union voted Wednesday night to authorize a strike when their contract expires on Feb. 29. The looming work stoppage would affect 77% of the office buildings in Downtown Miami and Downtown Fort Lauderdale, according to a release from the union. 

Union members are looking for a boost in wages, an increase in the number of full-time employees and more paid time off. Part-time janitors, which make up 80% of the workforce represented by the union, make $13 an hour with five vacation days and one paid holiday, according to the release. Full-time workers earn $13.50 per hour and get an additional five paid holidays. 

The union is negotiating with around a dozen companies that act as subcontractors for property managers and building owners to provide cleaning services, said Ana Tinsly, regional communications manager for 32BJ SEIU.

Tinsly told Bisnow Thursday that major hurdles remained to reaching an agreement. The contract being offered includes a 50-cent-per-hour increase in wages for each of the next three years and a 25-cent increase in the fourth year. 

“Negotiations are very far apart, they’ve presented pretty insulting proposals for the janitors,” Tinsly said, calling the proposed wage increases “really small considering the cost of living in Florida.” 

Three of the top Miami-based contractors involved in the negotiations — Harvard Maintenance, Allan Industries and CRS Facility Services — didn’t respond to Bisnow’s emails and phone calls requesting comment. BOMA Miami-Dade, a trade group representing landlords and building managers, also didn’t respond to requests for comment.  

A strike could be called at any moment after the contract expires and would impact some of South Florida’s biggest office buildings. 

In Miami, union workers clean and maintain the 195K SF Miami Central, the 47-story Miami Tower, the 290K SF Brickell City Tower, the 39-story One Biscayne Tower, the 1.2M SF Southeast Financial Center and the 752K SF Wells Fargo Center, the 32BJ SEIU said.

Downtown Fort Lauderdale properties that rely on the union’s workers include the 408K SF Las Olas City Centre and the 24-story Broward Financial Centre, per the union. 

JLL is listed as the property manager on the websites of the Southeast Financial Center and Las Olas City Centre. A spokesperson for JLL in South Florida didn't respond to Bisnow's request for comment.

Union members voted Wednesday night. Around 97% of South Florida's janitors are Hispanic or Latino, according to the union.

The strike has the support of at least one elected official, with Hialeah City Councilwoman Angela Pacheco saying in a statement that she was “united in this cause.” 

“This is supposed to be the land of opportunity, but sadly we are seeing that this is the land of opportunity for only certain people,” she said. 

A report from 32BJ SEIU found that 98% of South Florida janitors are foreign-born, 97% are Hispanic or Latino and 71% are female. Tinsly said the rising cost of living in South Florida is forcing these workers to live farther away from the buildings they work in. 

“A lot of them have a collection of odd jobs and it's go, go, go from the moment they wake up to the moment they get home,” she said. “They don't have any lives.” 

The union highlighted the rapid growth of Miami’s office real estate sector in recent years and said its members’ wages have stagnated meanwhile. 

The union’s report found Miami’s janitors are the lowest paid among major U.S. metros when adjusting for cost of living. Conversely, Miami’s office market has bucked national trends and seen asking rates rise 6.4% year-over-year at the end of December, according to CBRE. Rents have shot up 72% since 2019 in highly sought markets like Brickell, according to Blanca Commercial Real Estate

In Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale, rent growth has begun to taper off after an 18% run-up in the last five years across all assets and a 25% increase among top assets, according to Avison Young

This is the second time the union has negotiated for a new contract for its South Florida members since it organized commercial building janitors in 2019. If workers walk off the job, it would be the second collective action since they organized, following a three-day strike in February 2021 that was limited to workers at Miami Tower. The union has also organized protests over alleged unfair labor practices in Downtown Doral. 

While the union is negotiating with the subcontracting firms that themselves work with property managers who were hired by landlords, Tinsly said building owners are key players in determining what the janitors get paid.  

“Ultimately, building owners and management companies set the budget because of the contracting system that we have in place,” she said. “The contracting system can be a race to the bottom because companies are oftentimes bidding against each other to see who will do the work the cheapest. Ultimately, it's the workers that suffer.”