New agreement allows thousands of NYC commercial, residential properties to mandate vaccination for building service employees

Scyscrapers in New York
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Thousands of commercial and residential properties in the city, including condos and co-ops, now have the option to mandate vaccination for building service employees. 

A Memorandum of Agreement, issued on Oct. 1 by the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, a multi-employer association representing the city’s real estate industry, and SEIU Local 32BJ, the union representing 85,000 building service workers in the city, addresses rules for implementing COVID-19 vaccine requirements for staff working in most city buildings.

The agreement said both parties “encourage and support” all individuals to be vaccinated against COVID-19, including employees managers and tenants. 

“The agreement is really a testament to the good faith and the cooperation between the RAB and the union in terms of our joint interest in keeping buildings safe for our employees, our residents or any other people who might visit the building,” said Howard Rothschild, President of the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations.

Local 32BJ, which represents over 175,000 building employees, has agreed to allow employers to mandate their unionized employees receive the vaccine. 

“In the end, no one wants to see people get sick, hospitalized or die, and I think both sides clearly recognized that the science and the data shows people will be safer and healthier if they get vaccinated, so that was the underpinnings of this agreement,” Rothschild said. “I’m remarkably proud of the way the industry has acted and the way the union has acted and how we’ve all come together  to make buildings safer and healthier.” 

Now, it is up to the buildings to determine if they want to mandate vaccinations or not. Some buildings plan to point to the memorandum as an incentive for employees to get vaccinated before they officially mandate it.

“We had a lot of staff members that were concerned that there weren’t policies in place to protect them,” said Michael Rogoff, a member of RAB’s residential committee and also the president of AKAM, one of the largest property management firms in NYC and Florida. Residents, who often come in close contact with employees like door and elevator attendants and maintenance staff,  were also concerned that some staff members were not vaccinated, he said.

“This is a public safety agreement, and in most cases, when you’re making a decision based on health and safety it’s the right decision,” Rogoff said. “ I think most people were really looking for this to happen. I don’t think it will cause a divide. I think it was the right move.”

The union and RAB have made other prior agreements throughout the pandemic in an effort to keep employees safe. 

The other agreements served as “stepping stones” in ultimately reaching this agreement allowing for vaccine mandates to be put in place, Rogoff said.

The previous agreements have made efforts to educate employees about the vaccine and make the vaccine readily available for employees. Agreements have been made regarding testing for COVID-19 and others have been made regarding the use of PPE, masks and sanitation. Through the joint effort, many employees did get vaccinated following these prior agreements. 

“We’ve tried to do everything else to convince workers to get vaccinated, but at some point, the only thing that’s left is to mandate it,” Rothschild said. “The ultimate goal is to keep people healthy and safe, and that’s what we’re expecting out of this.” 

The agreement outlines “the process and safeguards which must be followed in the event a site or an employer intends to implement a COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” according to a press release from the Realty Advisory Board and SEIU 32BJ.   

Employers who want to impose a mandate must collect employees’ vaccination status information, giving employees a week to respond to the request for information on vaccination status, according to the release.  If and when employers seek to mandate vaccination, employees will have at least four weeks’ notice to get their first shot before the mandate goes into effect. 

The agreement lays out the consequences if employees refuse to get vaccinated. Consequences include unpaid furlough and separation of employment. The memorandum also covers an “extension of recall rights for employees in commercial properties,” discusses “continuing collaboration between the employers and the union to provide education and information on vaccination access” and “continuing protections related to the use of PPE,” the release said. 

Over the next week, the RAB will be hosting a series of webinars for anyone who has questions about the agreement.