Hundreds of Broadway’s custodians, elevator operators and restroom attendants have come to an agreement on a new contract with theater owners and management that includes a pay bump and an increased pension contribution from their employers.
"We have gone through a lot over the past two years," said Lorraine Feeks, 51, who has worked on Broadway with Jujamcyn Theaters for 29 years. "When Broadway returned, we were given all sorts of new cleaning duties. We do the hard jobs and we are risking infection, that makes us essential."
In the new contract, the essential workers will get wage increases, increased pension contributions, and continued paid family healthcare which is 100% covered by their employers.
About 230 cleaners from four companies — Jujamcyn, Nederlander, Shubert and Circle in the Square, which collectively manage 16 Broadway theaters — were represented by Local 32BJ in the contract negotiation. Their last four-year agreement was bargained in 2016; that contract was extended twice during the pandemic. As a result, workers didn't receive any wage increases in more than three years, despite the rigorous new COVID safety protocols which they said made their jobs more stressful, dangerous and demanding.
"It can be hard to see the important work we do on Broadway, cleaning tirelessly to keep theatergoers safe," Martha Aristizabal, who has worked for the Shubert company for more than 12 years, said in Spanish via a translator. "Since we came back to work, we have been asked to do a lot more to keep everyone safe. It feels good to get a new contract that reflects the contribution we have made during the pandemic. We deserve these raises, we deserve continued health coverage, and we deserve better retirement security!"
Aristizabal, 56, previously told Gothamist she works two shifts at the Ambassador Theatre making $20 an hour. In the mornings, she works as a custodian, cleaning backstage spaces and hallways. And in the evenings she acts as a manager's assistant, interacting with theatergoers. She said that she and other workers have lived in "constant fear" of getting sick because of their proximity to so many people.
Among other things, the new agreement ensures workers get a $3.75 raise incrementally over the next four years; an increase in employer contributions to the pension fund; and a one-time lump-sum payment for workers who haven't received a raise since 2019.
The deal establishes a $15-per-week minimum payment to any workers who regularly do heavy lifting involving transporting playbills. And it will maintain that the workers' health insurance is 100% employer-paid, which was an important sticking point for union negotiators.
“Broadway’s cleaners, porters and other essential workers have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Denis Johnston, executive vice president of 32BJ SEIU. "They were out of work when theaters closed and have been there – every step of the way – to help Broadway’s strong recovery. We thank The Broadway League for bargaining in good faith and for making sure these essential workers get economic recognition for the role they play in this iconic New York City industry."
The Broadway League, the national trade organization that represents theater owners and operators, said they were pleased with the agreement.
“The Broadway League and our member theatres value the work our porters and cleaners do to keep our theatres welcoming for our patrons, our staff, and our productions," Jason Laks, general counsel and executive vice president of labor relations for The Broadway League, said in a statement provided to Gothamist. "We appreciate that we were able to work with Local 32BJ productively to reach terms on a new collective bargaining agreement that provides wage and benefit improvements while managing costs responsibly for these employees that have done so much to help our industry return.”
The news comes a week after The Broadway League announced that all 41 theaters on Broadway will go "mask optional" for the month of July, and that the policy will be re-evaluated on a monthly basis going forward.
At the start of May, most Broadway theaters dropped their vaccine requirements for audience members.