About a thousand workers representing members of the Service Employees International Union filled streets in Center City to send a message to employers that they mean business in upcoming contract talks.
About a dozen busloads just from the New York area joined members of the union from Philadelphia as three groups of workers converged on the Ben Franklin Parkway for a massive rally. The rally was so big, that large-screen TVs were needed for all the protestors to see the stage.
The workers had a good portion of Center City shut down, marching from Love Park, the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and the Comcast Center. The groups converged on the parkway for speeches and a show of support from elected officials who joined the rally.
Democratic mayoral nominee, Cherelle Parker was the keynote speaker along with other state and city elected officials. She returned support given to her by the union at a time when she was not the frontrunner in the race.
The Philly rally brought together 32BJ SEIU cleaners from across the East Coast. Some 70,000 of its members will be negotiating for wage increases to keep up with inflation and protect life-saving health care benefits.
Luchiana Owens came from New York City to join the rally and said it’s a show of solidarity.
“These are my brothers and sisters out here in Philly. We fight. We’re here united,” Owens said. “We are going to win… The employers got to respect the work that we do. This is 2023.”
Owens said her cleaning job has been more difficult since COVID, with increased sanitary procedures and the need to take extra care to prevent the spread of diseases. She added that the unionized workers don’t make a great deal of money and rely on their jobs to sustain their families.
“Now is our time, now is the time for building owners not to take over our cities,” said April Verrett, SEIU secretary-treasurer.
She added that the work-from-home culture that emerged from the COVID pandemic is nothing more than a way for wealthy people to take over downtown office buildings for residential use at higher rents.
“When you see the doggie daycare, you know. They want our cities for themselves. But we are here to say these are our cities. These are our streets. You cannot erase us. You can’t erase our culture. You can’t erase our food. You can’t erase our communities,” Verrett said.
Parker and other politicians at the rally told the workers they had their support. Parker called for more unity of everyone in Philadelphia, in order to make the city a better place for people to live and work.
The commercial office cleaners, maintenance workers, mechanics, and other building workers are at the beginning of bargaining for a new union contract to replace the current deal that expires on October 15.
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