NEW YORK - Aramis Palma cleans and disinfects buildings at Columbia University. It’s a position that’s become much more important because of the coronavirus.
“It’s wonderful. I love my job,” said Palma. “We are essential, essential personnel."
He says he’s among about a half-dozen workers who contracted COVID-19 while cleaning Columbia’s Bard Hall, where doctors visiting from other states to help with the pandemic were staying.
“I caught like real bad symptoms in the beginning,” Palma explained, “I caught body aches and a fever.”
He had to be hospitalized, but recovered.
His health insurance paid for everything and he thanks his employer and his union, TWU Local 241. The union though and the University are now deadlocked in talks over a new contract. The union says Columbia wants workers to pay thousands of dollars more in health care premiums and deductibles, $3,000 per year for the average family of four.
“Sounds ridiculous,” Palma said. "They should try to help us out more. So, we should want to go to work and clean up and do everything that no-one else wants to because at the end of the day everyone is working scared.”
“It’s a major major sticking point, especially now that we’ve been working with modified schedules,” said Alex Molina, the President of TWU Local 241.
Molina represents more than 600 cleaners, electricians, plumbers, painters and security officers at four Columbia campuses. Last week they voted to give him the authority to call a strike once the old contract expires Friday night at midnight
“A strike would mean that there would be no-one there to clean the high touch areas, so it would expose the community,” he said.
Palma believes a strike could put the University’s plan to welcome students back to campus for a modified fall schedule on shaky ground.
Columbia responded, saying, “We have been and continue to be in active negotiations with union representatives, and we remain committed to reaching an agreement and avoiding a work stoppage that would be damaging to everyone involved.”
“We are taking care of everyone else, so if no-one is taking care of us, what’s going to happen?” asked Palma.
Palma and others says they don’t want to strike.
The last one the, union says, was in the 1970’s, roughly fifty years ago and it was over health care as well.
That strike they say helped secure health insurance for workers.