Members of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, representing men and women who clean many of the city's office buildings, have serious issues as contract talks begin.

Health benefits and wages are among the major concerns in the talks, which got under way Friday. A special sticking point is the $80 monthly health-care premium employees must pay to provide health benefits to dependents.

Wayne MacManiman, Mid-Atlantic director of Local 32BJ, said the $80 monthly fee puts the employees in a tough decision-making spot.

"To a lot of our members, they have to make a decision - pay the premium or pay the electric bill," MacManiman said. "A lot of our members work paycheck to paycheck. We saw 1,100 members drop their dependents from coverage."

"We offered realistic proposals to ensure hardworking [union] members and their families receive the health-care coverage, wages and pensions they need to support their families," MacManiman said in a statement.

"With rental rates at an historic high and vacancies down, Philadelphia's real estate market is more than healthy enough to give workers the raises they need and deserve."

Local 32BJ represents 2,350 building-services workers in 67 buildings, among them Commerce Square, the Blue Cross Building, Cira Centre and Centre Square.

The union's statement said that despite higher cost-of-living expenses, the income of employees has not risen in step.

"Philadelphia cleaners deserve nothing less than fully employer-paid health-care coverage for their families," said Local 32BJ president, Mike Fisherman.

"Quality, affordable health-care benefits are vital to working families, especially in urban centers such as Philadelphia, which has the highest poverty rate among the nation's 10 largest cities."

MacManiman said the sides exchanged proposals on Friday and that he was hopeful of a settlement because he has a good relationship with the property owners. *