April 3, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The last time 32BJ – the union representing 30,000 apartment building workers around the city – bargained for a fair contract in 2010, the real estate market was still in the tank. Today, that situation is very much improved – but the labor leaders working to ink a new deal before the current contract expires on April 20, insist that workers are not benefitting from the boom.
“We have a very unique situation in New York today where the real estate market has recovered, but, unfortunately, working people have yet to experience that recovery,” 32BJ President Héctor Figueroa told La
borPress on Wednesday.
Thousands of 32BJ members representing doormen, porters, supers and handy persons working in 3,300 buildings in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island, marched to Park Avenue on April 2, before agreeing to strike should current contract negotiations with the Real Estate Advisory Board [RAB] suddenly fall apart.
Workers have authorized a strike during the last six rounds of contract negotiations going all the way back to 1996 – but haven’t actually walked off the job since 1991.
RAB spokesperson Farrell Sklerov characterized this year's bargaining thus far as “extremely productive and amicable,” and dismissed this week’s strike authorization as “something that happens as part of every negotiation.”
“Virtually everyone expects that there will be a fair contract resolution reached by April 20,” Sklerov said.
Union leaders, however, are far less blasé about the bargaining that still must occur before an agreement is actually made.
“We have yet to talk about real numbers and real economics,” Figueroa continued. “This city is more expensive to live in than it was four years ago – so, we have to do better than four years ago.”
In a statement, Howard Rothschild, president of the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, said that negotiations with 32BJ 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.”
But RAB’s desire to structure wage increases based on the types of buildings where members work, could result in a 20 percent differential among employees – and that has the union concerned.
“We negotiate one raise for the whole city,” Figueroa said. “That raise supports families whether they live and work in the Far Rockaways or the Upper East Side. We want one grade like we’ve always had.”
According to the 32BJ president, this week’s strike authorization is actually significant.
“We are confident that this year we can get a contract,” Figueroa said. “But we have to be ready in case our idea of what a fair contract is, is different from theirs.”
Lenore Friedlaender, head of 32BJ member engagement, said that Wednesday’s strong showing on the streets of Manhattan is demonstrative of the rank and file’s “depth and unity.”
“Our members are ready to do what it takes to get a contract,” Friedlaender said.