Service union seeks to tie its fortunes to broader society

Thousands of people from the union representing commercial office cleaners rallied in Center City on Wednesday to highlight their work to help raise wages for other, non-unionized workers.

The rally came as janitors from local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union prepared to negotiate new contracts for more than 75,000 workers on the East Coast.

“It’s a larger fight,” said Hector Figureroa, president of the local, which numbers 165,000 members and is increasingly one of the more powerful forces in labor politics. “All workers in this economy are hurting, and there’s more awareness in this country.”

RELATED:Janitors plan rally for thousands in Center City.

The union has provided vital support to the Fight for $15 movement, which seeks a higher minimum wage for fast food workers across the country. Locally, they werea force in the push to raise wages for non-unionized baggage handlers at the airport.

During the march through downtown, the members of the union carried signs that read “Elevate America,” a message they hoped would underscore the degree to which the fortunes of unionized workers are tied to non-union ones.

Valarie Long, an executive vice president for the union who started as an office cleaner in Philadelphia, was excited by what she said were support by people on the street as the marchers wound through downtown Philadelphia.

“They know these wages trickle up to them,” Long said.

The rally began on the 2100 block of Chestnut Street, in front of a building where about a dozen unionized workers were fired after the building was sold.

Greystar, the property management firm that took over the building and hired non-union janitors, did not immediately return a call for comment.

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