Luxury construction workers and doormen in more than 3,000 buildings, from modest rents to Billionaire’s Row supertalls, approved a strike on Wednesday night if they do not reach an agreement on a new collective agreement to succeed one that expires on April 20.
Talks between the workers – who are negotiating through their union, 32BJ-SEIU – and the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations (RAB), which represents the landlords, are underway, with both sides meeting on Tuesday and scheduled to negotiate again on Thursday.
A significant point of contention for the workers is a management proposal that demands cuts in the workers’ paid holiday and sick leave, as well as a proposal that workers must contribute to their health insurance, which is currently paid exclusively by building and apartment owners.
Felix Figueroa, a concierge at The Hamilton, a Morningside Heights co-op in Manhattan, claimed the RAB went to extremes and “did not negotiate in good faith.”
“They want to go from A to Z. We do not think this is a good time to move backwards,” about health coverage two years inside the pandemic, the 54-year-old said. “We should move on.”
After a meeting on Park Avenue, workers voted to allow a strike if an agreement is not reached by April 20th. If the negotiations collapse and both sides do not agree on a contract, it would be their first work stoppage since 1991, which lasted for 12 days.
The strike will affect more than 550,000 residents in the building, disrupt parcel and mail deliveries as well as building security if the more than 30,000 workers withhold their jobs.
“On the 21st, there will be a strike if there is no contract,” 32BJ-SEIU President Kyle Bragg said in an interview during the Upper East Side rally in support of workers Wednesday afternoon.
“We remain optimistic that negotiations are progressing, but there is still a long way to go before we reach an agreement,” he said. “We have not yet discussed economic issues other than talking about what it takes to maintain our benefit packages, and then we hope to talk more about that tomorrow and then we’ll see where we are.”
‘No no no’
The union contract covers trustees, porters, handymen, concierges and doormen in properties owned or managed by related companies, Allied Partners, Vornado Realty Trust and other companies that negotiate together as Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, which has properties in every neighborhood except Bronx.
At the rally, which stretches along Park Avenue from East 79th Street to around East 86th Street, hundreds of these workers raged against the landlords’ demands, shouting during a call-and-answer: “They say givebacks, we say fight back!”
Among those in attendance were a few powerful Democrats in New York, including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Upper West Side Councilor Shaun Abreu.
Asked about the management proposals, building inspector José Aponte, who was holding a sign that read “Slop ready,” simply said, “No, no, no. That’s not good.”
The chairman of the Realty Advisory Board, Howard Rothschild, claimed in a statement Wednesday afternoon that management’s demands for reimbursement of health insurance and cuts in paid time off were “reasonable”.
“RAB has proposed reasonable and reasonable wage increases as well as the sharing of health care costs through employee contributions to the premiums that employees are currently paying zero of,” the statement read. “Our relationship with the union has resulted in more than 30 years of uninterrupted peace of mind, and we will continue to work toward the same goal this year.”
Pandemic changed the nature of jobs
Ardist Brown, a 61-year-old concierge at 66 Central Park West, noted that construction workers had to take on multiple roles as COVID lockdowns turned homes into versatile live, work and play zones, turning management’s proposed cuts into vacations and sick. time burns more.
“I wore a lot of hats during the pandemic: I became a home helper, I became a dog aerator, a pack carrier, I provided food,” he said.
Even before the strike approval vote, Teamsters – which represents UPS drivers and other trucking and delivery services – promised to support the doormen.
“Teamsters stand in solidarity with our 32BJ sisters and brothers and will give the union our full support to win their strike,” Teamsters Joint Council 16 spokesman Alex Moore said in a statement to THE CITY Wednesday morning.
With market rents soaring, construction workers are negotiating a larger share of the pie and seeking higher wages and better benefits. In March, the average rent in Manhattan reached a record high of $ 3,700 – more than 21% more than a year ago.
Workers are demanding a wage increase “at least” tied to inflation, which in New York City is at a rate of 5.1%, and no changes in their health care, which are currently funded exclusively by building and apartment owners.
The workers’ attention during the negotiations is also the more than 170 32BJ-SEIU members who died due to coronavirus, including 40 who worked in residential buildings.
Brown, 66 Central Park West concierge, received COVID in March 2020. He was back at work three weeks later. He also took part in the last doorman strike in 1991.
He had a message for the building owners: “Do not forget those who were saving lives during the pandemic.”