Looking at the numbers, the price of a union employee has gone up since 1982. According to James Berg, president of the Realty Advisory Board, the majority of property workers made $296.42 a week back then. Today, that amount has risen to $658.32. But the numbers don't tell the whole story. Today's employee is well-informed about his rights and the need for his skills. And that has meant boards have to be better informed about their own responsibilities — or end up getting sued.
Indeed, over the past 20 years, the staffing story has been one of increasing legal regulation, which has changed the dynamics of hiring employees for a building. The board member of today is held to a much higher standard than his 1982 predecessor. However, a prospective employee now knows to ask more than just what his salary will be. He (or she) will take the initiative by posing questions about job growth potential, benefits, vacation, and retirement plans.
While the makeup of a building's staff has remained virtually untouched over the past 20 years, its performance standard has clearly shifted. As residents continue to demand an increased quality-of-life in their building, the staff members (and the union that represents them) must respond. Neither the workers nor their employers would be remotely satisfied with the expectations that existed in 1982. The picture: maintenance personnel learned their trade and performed it accordingly; the union's trade school provided classes in the basic areas of carpentry, plumbing, and air-conditioning; workers knew their roles and there was no question as to who was in charge.
"Most supers were captains of the ship," Peter Grech, vice president of the Superintendents Club of New York, recalls, "[while] today power has shifted to boards and management, in most cases." Today, the hiring of maintenance personnel may or may not include the super's input — it varies building by building. Regardless of the implied power struggle, the superintendent is expected — now more than ever — to enter a building armed with more than just his/her trade. Management and people skills are considered imperative to the super's role in 2002. Dick Koral, director of the Apartment House Institute at New York City Technical College, notes that the demands of building employees have changed considerably as technology increases. Grech predicts this will continue to evolve in the next five to ten years as supers become more technologically savvy in their day-to-day duties.
The various concessions and changes expected of the building worker over the past 20 years has been a two-way street. Consequently, the maintenance personnel of today expect more from their employers and union. The stereotype of the blue-collar worker no longer fits as the defining profile.
Today, it costs a building 150 percent over and above what it cost in 1982 from a labor standpoint, according to Berg. What is noticeably absent from the table below is the fact that the union trade school has expanded its training to include management, GED, and ESL courses, among others. Because of this growth and the continuous rise in the expectations of building workers, the trade school will soon be adding branch locations.
The sophistication of the building employees of today cannot be ignored. Workers and boards have higher expectations now more than ever of each other and, as a result, the checks and balances of the system are capable of producing a well-run residential machine. Attorney Lew Silverman, senior partner at Jackson Lewis and a labor and employment law expert for 26 years, advises boards to heighten their awareness of employee relations, "Don't assume it's going to happen. You have to work at it." Ah, the story of any successful business.