A picket line has been drawn between Brooklyn’s residential high-rise employees and building owners.
Hundreds of union doormen, boiler workers and other maintenance men and woman voted on Wednesday night to go on strike next month if management doesn’t renounce proposed cuts to overtime, health care, pensions and sick pay.
The current contract between the building owners and members of 32BJ Services Employees International expires on April 20.
“I have a family to provide for,” said Jeff Mitchell, a boiler technician for the Flatbush Gardens apartment complex, as he supported giving the union hierarchy the power to strike. “This is not fair for me or my kids.”
A strike would not only affect the apartment building workers, but the tenants in those buildings, explained Renee Rodriguez, a maintenance man for the mammoth apartment towers on 65th Street between Third and Fourth avenues in Bay Ridge
“The tenants need us,” he said. “When I talk to them, they can’t believe that something like this is happening to us.”
But it is. Recent dips in residential property values and increased taxes have hit landlords particularly hard, says the Realty Advisory Board, which negotiates for building owners. As they try to recoup their losses, they’re demanding that employees contribute 10 percent of their health insurance costs.
They also wants to kill the pension plan for new hires, reduce paid holiday and vacation days and change how overtime is calculated.
“The union says times are tough for workers. They are also tough for owners of co-ops, condominiums and rental buildings,” explained board President Howard Rothschild. “The union has asked for a fair contract for its members. We agree with that, as long as the union remembers that what’s fair for them has to be fair for us, too.”
Under the current contract, porters, doormen and maintenance staff currently receive about $40,000 a year and receive full health benefits and pensions. One experienced doorman can cost a building owner $68,000 in salary and benefits per annum, Advisory Board members grumbled.
There are 255 apartment buildings in the borough serviced by 2,000 union members. If a strike is called, they’ll immediately stop what they’re doing and begin picketing outside their respected buildings. The newer high-rises in downtown Brooklyn probably won’t be affected because most employ non-union workers.
Yet Borough President Markowitz, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said hopes were high for an equitable settlement.
“We know it’s a tough economy, but our buildings are not empty, our rent increases have not stopped and the city’s vacancy rate is at the lowest it’s been in years,” he said. “They should be able to negotiate a fair and reasonable contract.”