Gloves off: NYers fear strike as doormen, landlords face off
Jack Florentin, 52, a doorman in Turtle Bay may be forced to strike next week. (Photo: Tiffany L. Clark)
Tell New Yorkers they could lose their doormen and many become a little unhinged.
With the union representing 30,000 doormen and other workers still far from a deal ahead of Wednesday’s strike deadline, close to a million city residents may be forced to pick up the slack.
Residents could end up doing everything from arranging to get packages from delivery workers reluctant to cross picket lines to taking out their neighbors’ trash. Many will have to show ID to get into their own buildings.“It’ll be a lot of worries, a lot of hassle,” said Victoria Spelman, 41, who could be moving into her new Murray Hill condo next week just as workers walk out.
What’s more, New Yorkers see building workers as important parts of their lives, helping with groceries, bonding with children and making them feel safe at night. The last doorman strike dragged on for 12 days in 1991.
“We're friends,” Lee Goldberg, 32, said of the doormen at his East 37th Street building. “You come in. You talk to them for a while. You share stories about each other's families. They're a part of your life.”
The workers — including porters, supers and concierges — in all boroughs except the Bronx could leave the job midnight Wednesday, the deadline for a new contract between owners and Local 32BJ. Final negotiations begin today and both sides expect round-the-clock talks.
Jack Florentin, 52, a doorman on East 46th Street, said he spends more time in the building where he works than the one where lives.
“I know everyone's names and their friends' names. It's my job,” he said. “I've spent half my life in this building.”
The Realty Advisory Board, which represents owners of 3,200 buildings, says the down economy has made it more difficult to meet workers' demands. The board is asking union members to pay 10 percent of health insurance premiums, wait longer to earn top pay and for new hires to switch from a pension plan to a 401(K).
“We're far apart right now,” said Mike Fishman, president of 32BJ.But landlords say that unlike four years ago, when the last contract ran out and a strike loomed, the residential real estate market is sagging.
“We have declining income and rising costs,” said Howard Rothschild, president of RAB.
The workers make an average of about $40,000 a year but Rothschild said employers pay closer to $70,000 with benefits.
Betty Cooper Wallerstein, president of the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association, which represents 40 blocks on the east side, said some buildings would have trouble filling in for striking workers.
“Many people cannot pitch in,” Wallerstein said. “We have seniors, we have people who travel, people who leave early and come back late. It is a big responsibility.”