Competitors Collaborate to Pass New Union Contract

By Matt Ellis

When service contractors in Fairfield County, CT and Hudson Valley, NY entered into negotiations with SEIU Local 32BJ for a new collective bargaining agreement, the group of competitors was aligned in its goal to gain the best terms for the local market and wrestle some of the external market pressure away in the process.

To that goal, three of the 20 contractors involved in the negotiations forged an association to coordinate their efforts. SMG/Sun Services, A&A Maintenance and the AffinEco Companies of United Services, Melillo Maintenance and Premier Maintenance hired one attorney to represent their cooperative interests and negotiate with the union.

“Because we shared a similar vision of protecting the local market, we were able to keep the focus on the local market,” said Paul Senecal, President of United Services. “There was a real cooperative spirit among all the contractors involved in the negotiations.”

“I believe the success of our negotiations came from the recognition of the local association, the ability we had to influence the direction and tone of the talks, and of course the economic conditions. I appreciated all the association members and the other companies involved for working as a team,” said Premier President Michael Diamond, who served as a lead negotiator for the association.

The union officially ratified the four-year collective bargaining agreement in early January. Negotiations concluded before Christmas, so the parties were able to enjoy the holiday without having to return to the bargaining table.

“Everyone knew it was in our best interest to get this done before Christmas so people could be with their families,” said Senecal.

The contract, which covers all cleaning and maintenance workers in commercial buildings over 100,000 square feet in Hudson Valley, NY and Fairfield County, CT, will be in effect until December 31, 2015. It calls for cost increases totaling two percent in the first year, then three percent for each of the following three years. According to Senecal, the costs to the contractors are 25 percent less than the previous contract.

“Both sides knew that this contract had to be reflective of the economic conditions in these markets. We negotiated based on what we knew the market would bear and the outcome was a win-win,” said Senecal.

SEIU Local 32BJ is the largest property services union in the country, with approximately 3,200 commercial cleaners in Hudson Valley and Fairfield County. In a press release, the union said it was a “fair agreement” supported unanimously by the membership.

“We had a goal of controlling costs in this agreement and, because of our association and the hard work of all those who participated, this worked out for the contractors, the union and our customers,” said Diamond.

Diamond also pointed out how contractors in the Hartford/New Haven markets also inked a new contract with SEIU in January, agreeing to a similar increase over four years.

While that negotiation did not present the same challenges as the one in Hudson Valley, NY and Fairfield County, CT, Senecal says the lesson of working in collaboration with other contractors to achieve what’s best for a local market was important. “I think the association definitely helped us in this process, and we would definitely look at doing it again.”