New York City Doormen Threaten Strike

New York city's 30,000 doormen and porters are in the midst of negotiating their new union contract this week. Talks resume March 17, and if no agreement is reached, residents in some 3,200 of New York's apartment buildings may find themselves hauling their own dry cleaning and Tibetan delivery up from the lobby.

Jerry Seinfeld once unkindly noted, "you would think if any group of people would not want to demonstrate what life would be like without them it would be doormen," asking "who's gonna walk out next? The guys who clean your windshield at the traffic light, with the dirty rag?"

Seinfeld may underestimate the threat of labor solidarity if the doormen strike and other workers refuse to cross their picket line.

Brickunderground warns that UPS may delivery packages to the nearest UPS office instead of crossing the line. Package closets and utility rooms may be locked, says Habitat magazine, and the New York City Department of Sanitation may refuse to pick up garbage until a state of health emergency is declared.

The doormen haven't gone on strike since a 12-day walkout in 1991, but in 2006, negotiations went right up to the very last day.

The x-factor in this year's debate is that the Real Advisory Board on Labor Relations, who represents building owners and operators, has a new president, Howard Rothschild. Crain's New York Business reports that Rothschild's predecessor, James Berg, was a well-regarded figure by both sides during his 30-year tenure. He died of cancer last November. Rothschild, appointed last Christmas, is talking tough.

"While other people in New York have been hit hard, [union] members' wages and benefits have gone up in each year of the agreement," he told Crain's. "When you have building owners who can't get the rents they were getting and co-op and condo owners who have been laid off or had their wages frozen or cut, this is not just business as usual."

It's true, the 2006 union contract, which expires April 20, does provide for wages to increase annually. The doorman union, 32BJ SEIU, say that while 2009 may have been a stinker for housing, New York real estate overall is doing well.

The union contends that in the four years since the last contract was negotiated, property values have increased for owners by 28 percent, while the cost of living has risen by 11 percent. The union wants a cost of living adjustment to their wages. Instead of salary freezes, the union is encouraging employers to lower their operating costs by taking advantage of a new "Green Buildings" training program that would teach building operators to save cash through making their buildings more energy efficient.

Stayed tuned. Negotiators have five days after taxes are due on April 15 to reach an agreement. If they can't iron out their differences, those in the doorman-building tax bracket could have a doubly unpleasant April 20.

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