By Holly Dutton
Negotiations between the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations and 32BJ SEIU, the largest union of property service workers in the U.S., are currently underway in advance of the current contract between the two groups expiring at midnight on April 20.
Local 32BJ represents 30,000 residential building workers who work in rental, co-ops and condo buildings in New York City, including doormen, porters, supers and handypersons.
“We are confident we will win a strong contract because our membership is united, we are well organized and we are ready to strike,” said Hector J. Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU in a statement on the group’s website.
“We also feel confident because our employers recognize the importance of our work, and the real estate industry is strong and growing.”
The union is asking for a raise to keep up with the cost of living, and has announced plans to rally and march today (Wednesday) starting at 5 p.m. on the Upper East Side, in which they will be joined by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and other elected officials.
“We will be voting Wednesday to authorize this committee to agree to a fair deal for members to ratify or to strike if a fair deal cannot be reached,” said Figueroa.
“We want and deserve a strong contract, one that maintains our benefits and provides for a fair wage increase that keeps up with the rising costs of living in a city as expensive as New York.”
In the last contract negotiation that took place in 2010, both groups agreed to a 12 percent wage and benefit increase and the establishment of a healthcare savings committee to restructure the health fund to make it more affordable.
“The positive relationship built between the RAB and Local 32BJ over the past 80 years is a model for successful labor relations,” said Howard Rothschild, President of the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, in a statement.
“It has resulted in 20 plus years of uninterrupted labor peace and we hope to extend that streak this year. Negotiations with the Union are going extremely well so far because we are both committed to the same goal: reaching a fair contract that includes wage increases and protects the generous health and pension benefits that workers enjoy today.”
The vote is largely a formality, Rothschild added. The union has had strike authorization votes for residential workers in 1994, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2010. But in each of those years, the contract was settled amicably and no strikes took place.
“There has been a lot of progress and a general sense of goodwill on both sides in the current negotiation,” said Rothschild. “Still, it is important that everyone begins preparing for the possibility of a strike just in case things don’t go as expected.
“Taking a few simple preventative steps will reduce the burden of a strike on building owners, managers and tenants. Ultimately, it is always better to be safe than sorry.”
More information on what building owners should do in the event of a strike can be found on the REW website at www.rew-online.com.
The RAB and 32BJ are considered to have an excellent working relationship. Because of the positive relationships they have built over the years and the real estate industry’s commitment to keeping 32BJ among the best compensated residential building workers in the country, there has not been a strike in the residential sector since 1991.