NYC building workers union reaches tentative agreement to avoid strike

by Abdulhaqq Obisesan Oladimeji
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The building workers union reached a tentative, four-year agreement with the landlords that employ them, the two negotiating partners announced Tuesday.

The move came days after 32BJ SEIU union members voted to authorize a strike and hours after union president Kyle Bragg told NY1 a strike could come Thursday.

“We have a deal!” Bragg shouted as he opened a press conference announcing the deal. “After two years of our members being asked to give and sacrifice more of themselves than ever before, they deserve more in return for their service, not less. And that’s the deal we got done today.”

Bragg said the raises built into the deal would be the highest 32BJ members have ever received in any contract.

More than 32,000 doormen, porters, handymen and building superintendents at over 3,000 buildings across the city will see about 12.6% in wage increases over four years and a onetime $3,000 bonus, 32BJ and the landlords’ bargaining organization, the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, said in statements.

“Today is a continuation of the extraordinary partnership and further shows the industry’s respect for our essential workers,” said Howard Rothschild, the president of the Realty Advisory Board. “I am proud that our industry and this union can serve as an example for how others can successfully negotiate collective bargaining agreements for everyone’s benefit.”

The average wage for a doorman will reach $62,000 by the end of the new agreement, the Realty Advisory Board said. The proposed deal still needs to be approved by union membership, but leadership touted the agreement as achieving their negotiating goals, including a bonus to counterbalance the effects of inflation and a commitment to fully employer-paid healthcare.

“Healthcare is essential, keeping our 100% employer-paid healthcare was non-negotiable, and real wage increases were critical,” union bargaining committee member Crystalann Johnson said in a statement.

Bragg and Rothschild both talked about the role residential building workers’ played during the pandemic as a central factor being considered during the negotiations. Bragg described the uncertainty of the early days of the pandemic, when his members were forced to wear garbage bag as personal protective equipment and undress before entering their homes for fear of bringing the virus with them.

“When the pandemic first hit, no one really understood what was going on, what was happening, and how to be safe in it,” Bragg said. “As people were contracting the virus rapidly at a maddening pace, our members continued to go to work every day to make sure the homes that they work in, the apartment buildings they work in, that the tenants that lived there were both safe and secure.”

Workloads for doormen and porters only increased as New Yorkers began to work from home, something Bragg said his members didn’t have the option to do. In their negotiations, the Realty Adivsory Board “responded to that courage and honored that work in this contract,” Bragg said.

“There is great respect and gratitude and admiration for the employees,” Rothschild said. “They asked that their employees be acknowledged and rewarded and we were more than happy to do that.”

Despite the threat of strike, Bragg and Rothschild embraced rhetorically and physically at the press conference announcing the deal Tuesday evening. Bragg dubbed his counterpart “a worthy sparring partner” and Rothschild called their relationship the “gold standard of labor relations in this country.”

The two leaders, who have known each other for almost 40 years, hugged upon the conclusion of their remarks.

If ratified, the new contract will be effective until April 20, 2026.

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