Outer Borough Office Cleaner

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Political Refugee Puts Polish on his Job

By Erin Brodwin

When he can, Nessim Kohen likes to pause and catch a glimpse of the sunset from the 17th floor of the Citibank building in Long Island City, where he works as an office cleaner from 5 p.m. until midnight.

He also likes the way the sun lights up a floor he has recently polished. “The managers like the floors shiny,” he said with a smile, “but I like them shinier.”

Kohen was recently awarded Best Outer Borough Office Cleaner by his union. In addition to his work, his position as a shop steward allows him to serve as a liaison between the workers in his building and the 70,000 other members of SEIU Local 32BJ.

“This award is like a pat on the back,” Kohen said. “It lets me know I’m on the right track.”

A 48-year-old father of two and political refugee from his home country of Albania, Kohen is a humble achiever. Looking across the Court Square Park plaza where he often takes his breaks, Kohen said, “Work for me is like a hobby. If I don’t do it, I get sick.”

As a carpenter in Albania, Kohen became accustomed to taking on large jobs that would often require more than one person. But he never let the prospect of too much work get him down. “When I finish each day, I am proud of what I do,” he said. “That is all I need to keep going.”

In New York City, Kohen finds balance between family, work and home by treating each day as a new opportunity for something special to happen.

“Work is what brings out my happiness, my nature and my passion,” said Kohen, who is supporting two college-age daughters. The younger one, who is 18 years old, is studying computer science at Brooklyn College. The other is 23 and preparing for a career as an optometrist. Kohen said, “They are my beautiful butterflies. They are the reason I am able to work so hard. I want to elevate them—to sustain them.”

That’s what Kohen, who works for Cushman & Wakefield, thinks about when he is keeping the offices at the Citibank tower in tip-top shape.

The award is nice, he said, but what he really appreciates is the ability to work. “At the end of each day, I have no complaints,” he said.

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