Your home might no longer be as safe or clean if building workers go on strike in April.
“They are the ones looking out in the neighborhood when you come in late at night from work or from the theater,” said Kyle Bragg, vice president and director of the residential division Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “There is a sense of security in that.”
Over 300 Queens building workers – doormen, superintendents, resident managers, porters, handymen and concierges – gathered at Elmhurst Memorial Hall and voted on March 30 to go on strike, if necessary, if by midnight April 20 the Realty Advisory Board (RAB) and 32BJ did not reach a negotiated agreement. Failure to do so could lead to a strike of 3,500 apartment building workers at more than 550 buildings in Queens – and 30,000 building service workers citywide.
In negotiations since March 9, members of 32BJ said they found themselves in disagreement with the RAB on how best to protect workers’ pensions and healthcare benefits. The union has also asked for a pay increase. Bragg declined to say how much more pay they sought, but he said they wanted a “fair wage increase.”
“They live and work in the city, which has become, increasingly, more difficult to do,” said Bragg. “Right now we know that fair is maintaining healthcare, fair is securing their pension and fair is giving them an increase that keeps pace with living in an expensive city like New York.”
RAB, which represents over 4,000 owners and managers of buildings across the city, explained that the economy has also negatively impacted middle-income co-operatives. These homeowners have experienced a sharp decrease in the value of their properties combined with large tax increases and skyrocketing operating expenses.
“The union says times are tough in New York City for workers. They are also tough for owners of co-ops, condominiums and rental buildings,” said Howard Rothschild, president of the RAB, who added that in the negotiations they want to focus on controlling costs. “The union has asked for a fair contract for its members. We agree with that, as long as the union remembers [agree] that what’s fair for them has to be fair for us, too.”
The last negotiations in 2006 did not anticipate the bad turn in the economy. But four years later, the economy weighed heavily on the minds of workers and owners alike.
“There is a big difference now. The cost of living alone is large enough, at least give us that,” said Joe Moran, a groundkeeper in Woodside for eighteen years. “We do the garbage for people. Who else is going to do it?”
Over the years, explained Moran, the union has been able to secure good pay increases and health benefits. According to the RAB, an experienced doorman now costs a building more than $68,500 a year in salary and benefits. But Moran added that workers haven’t had a raise since 2006 and now their health care might be gone too.
With the negotiations of their contracts back in play, Moran understood the delicate dance of “give and take” had to take place. However, he hoped the union didn’t go on strike.
“Hopefully, we don’t go on strike,” he said. “That’s the last thing you want to do because you won’t get the money back [from the time on strike]. We had a great turnout here today and a rally coming up. Hopefully things turn out for the best.”
There has not been a strike in the residential sector since 1991. That strike lasted 12 days. In 1994, 1997, 2003 and 2006, contract negotiations led to successful settlements without a strike.
“Although the RAB will, of course, be working hard to secure a mutually satisfactory agreement before the April 20 deadline, a strike always remains a possibility,” Rothschild said. “That, unfortunately, is the nature of labor relations.”