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7 Days – And Counting

With the April 20th strike deadline looming, and empty schedules posted to embarass residents of luxury towers into filling in for those who may walk out, I decided it was time to cut through the noise and get the straight talk .  How better than to ask the guys at the front door face to face.  So I closed my laptop and went on a highly unscientific, though elucidating tour of a dozen Downtown buildings.

“So what’s the strike about?” I asked.

This is the answer I got: 1) The RAB wants us to give up 5 of our 10 sick days, and 2) they want us to contribute $100 a month toward health care costs. Everyone I spoke to said exactly the same thing almost verbatim.

I gotta give it to the Union brass. They’re better than the Republicans at creating sound bites that stick with their membership.

“OK, that’s what the Union is against, but what is it for, I mean what do they say they’re going to get for you guys?”

The response was just as unanimous — silence. No one could say — not a single thing.

“We haven’t heard what the Union wants to get, only what the RAB wants to take back,” one resident manager said, a virtual proxy for all.

“I’m researching that,” a doorman in another building told me as if he were working on a dissertation not contemplating a strike.

One porter/doorman went so far as to say, “With the economy the way it is, I’m content, with the way things are.  And so are all the eight guys in the building.”

Only one resident manager voiced discontent, and that was with the last contract.  “We got screwed by signing a four-year agreement that didn’t take into account all the millions apartment owners made.”

“Except prices have gone down, not up, since 2006,” I ventured.

“Plenty still made money.  And, anyway, prices are going up now.  There’s lots of new construction in Staten Island, where I live,” I could see he knew more about the real estate market than I did.

“So has anybody from the Union asked what all of you want?” I hesitated.

“They sent out a survey at the beginning, but nothing since then.”

“I know how you feel,” I commiserated.  “Boards don’t really have any more say than you do.”

“You can’t even get through to a delegate,” a superintendent who had tried more than once confessed.

That’s a shame because as it turns out the guys on the job have some pretty good ideas. Here are a few.

1) Instead of just eliminating 5 sick days, they should move them from sick time to vacation time,” advised one super with the potential for being a negotiator. ”Because with sick days I don’t get any notice so I have to pay overtime for someone to cover. But vacations are scheduled in advance so the building can hire a temp at only 80% of regular pay. It’s a win-win.”

2) They should freeze Union dues for at least 6 months after any agreement because right now doorman pay $65/month and supers $70/month. Only every time our salary increases, the Union increases our dues so we wind up giving back a lot of what we got so it’s like we’re right back where we started.”

3) I wouldn’t mind paying $40/month toward health care, that’s fair, a staffer took a position contrary to the Union’s own line-in-the-sand stance. The problem is that once we say OK to $40, the owners will want $60 or $90 or who knows how much more.  But if the contribution could be capped, maybe it could work.

I don’t know anymore than anyone else how this is going to play out.  But I’d put my money on the guys on the front lines to come up with common sense creative compromises.  Too bad no one is listening to what they have to say.

As for those empty schedules, don’t expect them to get filled up any time soon.  In all the buildings I visited no more than 1 or 2 people had signed on for duty.

Only 7 more days to go.

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