By Howard Rothschild
New York is hurting. Over the past several months most of us have been confined and isolated while the COVID-19 pandemic swept through our City. Far too many people lost their lives, many more have been sick, still more have suffered and the economic ramifications continue to ripple outward.
In the face of these challenges, it is gratifying to see so many New Yorkers who have continued to step up and work towards a better future. In fact, when it comes to the City’s real estate community, both labor and management are working day and night to provide for the safety and security of workers, residents, tenants, and the general public.
Thanks to our collaborative efforts, residential buildings have continued to operate without interruption – including adapting operations to accommodate increased deliveries based on residents being home during the New York State on Pause as people continue to work and learn from home. Commercial buildings, which are still experiencing low occupancy rates and dramatically reduced tenant headcount, have substantially enhanced cleaning and security protocols to prepare for their tenants’ eventual return.
Realty Advisory Board-member commercial and residential building owners and contractors employ more than 70,000 building service workers, including porters, doorpersons, handypersons, superintendents, office cleaners, maintenance workers, elevator operators, porters, lobby attendants, security professionals, engineers, mechanics, and helpers.
Together through the pandemic, the RAB and the unions representing these employees have worked collaboratively toward implementation of several enhanced protections and established extended benefits.
The RAB and the building service unions have cooperated to maintain wages and benefits for impacted employees, including shared work agreements to avoid layoffs and lapses in health insurance coverage; up to five months of extended health and benefits coverage for employees who were furloughed or laid off; paid time off for quarantined workers; temporary assignments for displaced workers; and a voluntary early retirement incentive program so that eligible workers who decide to retire will have less financial uncertainty in these unsettled times.
Of great significance to real estate industry operations, the RAB, along with industry stakeholders, Real Estate Board of New York, Local 32BJ, Service Employees International Union, and Local 94, International Union of Operating Engineers, enacted comprehensive safety and operating protocols for both residential and commercial buildings.
These protocols will permit more New Yorkers return to their offices and apartments with each passing week, secure in the knowledge that appropriate steps are being taken to guard their health and safety.
The work we have done alongside our building service and engineering unions should serve as a model for effective labor-management relations during a crisis. It is imperative that we continue to support our workers and build on strategies that address safety concerns and provide flexibility in uncertain times if we are to continue the City’s recovery from the pandemic.
The pandemic challenged our leaders, our industries, and our communities. The spirit of unity, cooperation, and good will that has spread throughout the City during these difficult months demonstrates our strength. Faced with shared adversity, we came together and stayed together as neighbors, partners, and fellow New Yorkers to flatten the curve and set an example for the rest of the nation.
Howard Rothschild is the President of the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations