New Yorkers Brace for Doorman Strike

New Yorkers accustomed to paid staff hauling trash and guarding against strangers wandering into their apartment buildings will have to fend for themselves starting tomorrow if 30,000 workers strike.

About 1 million people live in apartments where members of the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ handle day- to-day tasks such as taking garbage to the curb, the union said. Some property managers are prepping for what could be the first walkout since 1991 by asking residents to help, a potentially smelly job in a city that produces 11,000 tons of trash a day.

“There’s a sheet for tenants to fill out for collecting garbage, watching the door for two hours at a time and for the mail,” said Jesus Cruz, a doorman at 720 Park Ave. “If you look at that sheet, you can see everybody filled in for the mail. Nobody wants to collect garbage.”

The union contract runs out at midnight tonight. Workers are asking for higher wages and improved health benefits. New York’s consumer price index shows the cost of living climbed 10 percent since the last contract was signed in 2006. The Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations Inc., representing owners of about 3,000 buildings, said yesterday it is continuing to negotiate in good faith.

“Residential buildings have been hit hard by dramatic increases in operating costs that include such things as fuel, water and property taxes,” RAB President Howard Rothschild said in a statement. “We are still in a time of economic uncertainty in the city, state and nation and we need to contain and control costs.”

Cost of Service

RAB estimates a doorman costs about $70,000 a year including benefits. The union said the average wage is $40,000 annually, or $769 a week. It didn’t provide a number including benefits.

Negotiations are continuing today.

The average weekly wage in the third quarter of 2009 was $840 for U.S. workers and $1,500 in New York, making it the nation’s second-highest paying county after Santa Clara, California, the U.S. Department of Labor said April 1.

FreshDirect, an online grocer that delivers in New York, put out a news release urging customers to buy in bulk before the strike so they won’t have to “lug big, heavy boxes to their front doors.”

At TriBeCa Tower on Duane Street, landlord Related Cos. suggested residents curb delivery orders and find out from moving companies if their workers will cross a picket line.

“Residents are requested to keep deliveries, shopping trips and other use of the entrance door to a minimum,” Related told tenants in a letter earlier this month.

Getting ‘Annoying’

“It’s going to be annoying because our building told us that if this does happen, there won’t be any collection of laundry, you won’t be able to pick up your packages at the front desk and you’ll have to throw away your own trash on the side of the building,” said Rajeev Sharma, a money manager at First Investors Management Co. who lives in the Atlas Building on West 38th Street. “It’s probably just going to be more stuff to do, more chores to do on the weekend.”

A notice from Weinreb Management LLC, a building operator based in the city, urged residents to take extra security precautions and “defer any garbage generating activities until after the strike.”

The city’s Department of Sanitation “is coordinating its strike contingency plans with other affected city agencies,” department spokesman Matthew Lipani said.

About one-third of the service workers prepared to strike are doormen, said Matt Nerzig, a spokesman for Local 32BJ. The rest include concierges, porters and handymen.

Strike Centers

“We’ve set up strike centers and appointed nearly 1,000 strike captains to supervise picket lines should we not get an agreement before the deadline runs out,” Nerzig said.

Some buildings, including the San Remo on the Upper West Side, hired extra security in addition to asking residents help check identification, said Vincent Alvarado, 57, a doorman who said he has worked there for 25 years.

Both he and Cruz, the doorman at 720 Park Ave., said temporary security guards can’t replace a regular doorman’s personalized service for residents.

“They’re not going to deal with them on a personal basis the way we do,” Cruz said. “It’s not just knowing them -- we know what they’re all about, on a one-on-one basis.”

In co-operatives such as 720 Park, residents buy shares in a corporation that owns the building and then lease the unit where they live. An additional monthly maintenance fee goes for building expenses including a doorman’s pay.

Cost of Living

The median price to buy a Manhattan co-operative or condominium dropped 11 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier to $868,000, broker Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate and appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. said this month.

The median rent for a Manhattan one-bedroom apartment in the first quarter was $3,000, compared with $6,829 for a three- bedroom.

“Would you like to carry your own bags when you’re paying thousands of dollars of rent every month?” said Hernandez Livingston, a doorman at the Helmsley Carlton House in Midtown East. Livingston is part of the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International Union Local 6 union instead of 32BJ because part of the building is a hotel, so his contract isn’t at issue.

Diane Garnick, an investment strategist at Invesco Ltd. who splits her time between Manhattan and Chicago, said it may be time to head west.

“We have a security team at our building learning from the doormen,” she said. “It’s good to know that when New York gets too tough, I can always go back to Chicago.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Sapna Maheshwari in New York at sapnam@bloomberg.net; Nikolaj Gammeltoft in New York at ngammeltoft@bloomberg.net

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