The Galaxy Towers Condominium on Boulevard East could be viewed as a distinct community within the five-block stretch that is Guttenberg. Fifty workers who maintain the 1,075 apartments, housing about a fifth of Guttenberg’s population, are organizing to demand better wages and benefits from the community’s management company.
Planned Companies was brought on as Galaxy Towers’s subcontractor in 2011, after the owners laid off more than 90 employees who took care of housekeeping, front desk duties, security, and garage management. The Towers owners outsourced much of this work to Planned Companies because their labor costs were cheaper.
The union that represented the employees before the 2011 layoff reportedly agreed to a wage freeze, which stuck for three years, but it did not retain those 90 jobs.
Prior to the 2011 layoff, Galaxy Towers employees were making $15 to $16 an hour, but workers under the current subcontractor said they are making roughly $9 to $11 per hour. After working eight years after Planned Companies was brought on, workers are unionized and requesting a better contract.
Struggling to get by
About 60 door persons and cleaners employed by Galaxy Towers held a rally near the development to kick off bargaining efforts for wages and benefits that they deem fair and necessary to support their families.
The employees unionized this year and are now represented by Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ, the largest property service worker’s labor union in the country. The local represents about 7,000 cleaners in New Jersey.
Representatives from SEIU 32BJ and Freeholder Bill O’Dea, vice chair of the Hudson County Board of Freeholders, attended the rally to support a union contract.
According to Madeleine Ball, a local SEIU representative, Planned Companies cleaning crew wages have stagnated at about $10.50 an hour since 2011. The health insurance plan that Planned Companies offers its employees is “unaffordable,” and wages and benefits are not up to the industry standard, Ball said.
Freeholder Bill O’Dea spoke highly of SEIU’s track record.
“I’ve stood with 32BJ for almost two decades, fighting to bring poverty wage workers into the middle class,” O’Dea said. “Our community needs strong jobs that support working families, not jobs that keep people in poverty. The staff at the Galaxy should be able to join the thousands of workers in Hudson County covered by quality 32BJ contracts. 32BJ wants strong union contracts that provide families with living wages and meaningful benefits. Our community relies on working people to keep operations running smoothly and safely, and they need to be compensated fairly.”
Employees held signs reading “We are Galaxy Too!” and “Our Families Matter.” They said they’re facing challenges related to healthcare needs and costs of living.
“We’re here to tell residents that we matter too,” concierge Adriana Calabro said. “We need to stand united as a union, so that we can have quality healthcare and wages that we are entitled to as human beings. Right now, many of us, including myself, do not have good healthcare, and we live every day on edge.”
“The tenants and the community must be aware of the injustices taking place at Galaxy Towers,” Kevin Brown, director of SEIU New Jersey. “Cleaners and door persons work hard, often unnoticed, and fight tirelessly for better wages and working conditions to sustain their families, but they’re struggling to get by.”
At press time, Planned Companies had not responded to a request for comment.
Newark in solidarity
Local workers, city council officials, and SEIU representatives in Newark blasted Planned Companies in a rally outside Ironside Newark a few days before the rally in Guttenberg. Ironside is a privately-owned corporate office complex, where Planned Companies provides cleaning services as a subcontractor.
The owners of Ironside outsourced their labor to Planned Companies. City officials and union representatives opposed that choice. Workers there make about $10.50 an hour. They expressed concerns about being unable to afford healthcare, SEIU representatives said.
Now that Galaxy Towers’s staff is newly unionized and calling for contract negotiations, and with O’Dea’s endorsement, it’s likely that calls for contract negotiations for cleaners and door persons will continue.