NEW YORK, N.Y.—The yellow and purple that blossomed all over Park Avenue Apr. 11 weren’t crocuses. They were a few thousand 32BJ SEIU members carrying “Fair Contract Now” and “Ready to Strike” signs in the union’s colors.
When 32BJ President Hector Figueroa asked if they wanted to authorize a strike if the union’s negotiating committee has not reached a deal with the Realty Advisory Board when its four-year contract expires at midnight Apr. 20, they loudly shouted “Yes” several times, waving purple signs with “Yes” printed on them.
The results were not unexpected: The backs of the Yes signs were blank. When Figueroa asked if there were any members in opposition, the only sound was a man yelling “none.” “Park Avenue has gone silent,” Figueroa said.
The deal would cover the 31,000 workers 32BJ represents—doormen and doorwomen, potters, superintendents, and more—who provide services at more than 3,500 apartment buildings. The union is seeking “a fair wage increase, to maintain our benefits, and no givebacks,” vice president John Santos, head of the union’s residential division, told LaborPress.
The Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, which negotiates contracts on behalf of building owners, is seeking one major giveback. It wants the workers to begin paying part of their health-insurance premiums, which it calls “sharing of health-care costs.” Accepting that, Santos explained, would set a bad pattern for the “other people bargaining right behind us.”
The union argues that doorpersons and porters making $49,400 a year need a raise to keep up with the cost of living in New York City area, with the subway fare up 10% and the price of oranges up 17% since the last contract was ratified in 2014. Meanwhile, it says, rents are up all over the city, and the median sales price for an apartment in Manhattan was $1.1 million last year, 21% more than in 2014.
“The rent is too damn high,” Public Advocate Letitia James told the crowd. “Real estate is booming and the marketplace is booming, so you can afford a fair contract.”
The workers in 32BJ, Comptroller Scott Stringer said, “make money for some of the most powerful people in the world.”
“We need the money to live in the city that we want,” Figueroa said. “Our fight is the fight for lifting workers in this economy.”
Figueroa called the rally a “party,” with thousands of people filling the five blocks on the southbound side of Park Avenue from East 82nd Street to East 77th Street. The band on stage sang “are you ready to strike?” over the groove of Funkadelic’s “Not Just Knee Deep,” and James improvised lyrics to “We Are Family.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo struck an angrier note, saying that “there is an anti-worker mentality that has taken over this country,” an “extreme conservative philosophy” that opposes “everything New York” and “everything for working men and women.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, praising 32BJ for helping win a $15 minimum wage and protecting immigrants, said the issue boiled down to one simple question: “Are you on the side of working people or not?”
Gardner Soto, a concierge at 7 Dekalb Ave. in downtown Brooklyn, told LaborPress that workers in the new luxury building had gotten their first contract as 32BJ members last week, after trying to organize a union for two years. “Better health care and wages. A fair salary,” he said when asked what he wanted. “The rent goes up, everything goes up.”