(Bloomberg) — Residents of upscale luxury apartments may have to take out their trash and retrieve packages themselves as doormen and workers at 3,000 New York buildings threaten to go on strike.
Union contracts for more than 30,000 workers of buildings owned by companies including Vornado Realty Trust and related companies. Expires on 20th April. Property managers want to cut employees’ vacation days and sick leave, while forcing employees to meet their health care costs, which are now fully borne by management firms.
According to Kyle Bragg, president of the SEIU 32BJ union representing workers, building owners and managers have not proposed specific figures for wages. The talks are not over: Seven more bargaining sessions are scheduled before April 20, a union spokesman said.
“I’m not feeling very confident.” When asked about the progress of the contract negotiations, Bragg said. “This is not the time to move backwards, but to move forward.”
Building owners and managers, who are being represented by the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, say discussions are progressing.
“We will continue to work towards reaching a fair contract for both parties by April 20,” group chairman Howard Rothschild said in a statement. A spokesperson for Concerned declined to comment, and a representative for Vornado did not immediately return a request for comment.
Doormen, superintendents and other building workers played a key role in keeping apartment buildings functional as much of the world shut down during the pandemic, often putting their own health at risk in the process. They are calling for better compensation at a time when America is going through a period of labor unrest not seen since the early 1980s.
According to SEIU 32BJ, New York construction workers are paid an average of $26.45 per hour, or about $55,000 per year. They have been receiving salary and benefits growth of about 3.3% per year under their contract since 2018 which expires at the end of this month. But according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, spending is rising even faster than that—in the New York metropolitan area, costs increased nearly 5.1% in February.
Building managers are asking apartment owners and tenants to prepare for the strike, asking residents to plan to help with garbage collection, security and other services. Hoyt & Horn Management warned residents of its Brooklyn property that it would hire a security guard to staff the front door, but the guard would not operate the intercom, screen guests, or accept packages. Residents will have to take their waste on the road, as compactor rooms will remain closed.
Bryce Moreno, 35, a doorman and porter in a building on East 79th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan, said he felt humiliated and vulnerable. “You clap for us in a moment and then, you know, you’re trying to get into our pockets and take out what we’ve got,” Moreno says. “We’re not trying to leave anything out.”
Moreno, who has been working in the industry for nearly 14 years, earns an average of about $26 an hour. He says he is fighting “to get wage increases that match the cost of living in the city and country” given the rise in inflation.
The workers’ fight comes as apartment renters also find themselves squeezed. According to real estate broker firm Douglas Elliman, the average cost of renting an apartment in Manhattan in February was $3,700 per month, up 4.2% from January and 23.5% from a year earlier.
“Too many people live paycheck to paycheck right now with inflation,” said Krystal Ann Johnson, 35, who works as a concierge and a gatekeeper at Silver Towers in Manhattan. “We will get what we deserve.”
—With assistance from Natalie Wong.
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