When the contract with 30,000 union employees of 3,200 buildings in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Manhattan is due to expire, you can count on the situation unfolding as it has periodically over the years.
There always is a drumbeat of dire consequences issued by Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union. Then comes a strike authorization vote. Meantime, property managers and boards of directors gear up for the worst.
It’s a like a play in which everyone has a part and has all the lines memorized until the curtain rises.
In fact, the worst sometimes happens, meaning that residents of co-ops and condos are left to haul trash, guard doors and perform chores that they decide are essential. Another consequence may be the reluctance of unionized personnel from FedEx and such to cross picket lines.
No one ever wins in a strike such as this potential one, especially in these times, yet the silver lining can be the sense of community that is developed or strengthened.
New Yorkers have survived far more devastating traumas from blackouts to blizzards and, of course, attacks. Should there be a strike when or after the contract expires on April 21–and every union member I’ve asked hopes there won’t be one–it’s just as well to be prepared, though not panicked.
You may find it useful or reassuring to check Habitat magazine, BrickUnderground and the Real Estate Advisory Board (RAB), which represents the buildings, for pointers.
Under the current contract, New York City apartment building workers make on average $40,000 a year. Therefore, many of them have a second job.
Some buildings opt for a “me too” arrangement with the union, in which they agree to accept whatever terms eventually prevail. Although that will keep the building functioning smoothly, RAB contends that a proliferation of “me too” agreements also tends to weaken its negotiating power.
The situation may technically be an adversarial one, but I don’t view it that way on a one-to-one personal basis. After all, the union members are those folks who give treats to the dogs, keep the premises clean, water the roots of the grapevine, take care of packages and screen visitors.
Putting everything in perspective, I don’t think of a strike like 32BJ’s as unduly trying for me, even if increased labor costs force up my monthly maintenance. But I do appreciate that it is a great hardship for the union members.
Indeed, in my experience, building residents tend to sympathize with the strikers, providing them with coffee, goodies and expressions of support. To my mind, that’s the way it should be.
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022