Frank Lovece in Featured Articles on December 5, 2013
"Most supers I've met over the years are wonderful people who worked very hard to get where they are and care deeply about the building," says Howard Rothschild, president of the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations (RAB), the organization that works with the building-workers union, Local 32BJ, in negotiating contracts. "But in any industry with a large group of people, there are always those who may not do what they're supposed to do. And you have to deal with it, that's all."
There could be chronic issues such as excessive absenteeism, poor job performance or leadership, failure to carry out duties, and even such major infractions as stealing.
In one example, "The super lost control of his employees — high absenteeism, smoking by the doorman, excessive breaks being taken — and the building lost confidence in the super's ability to manage the staff," says veteran real estate attorney Arthur I. Weinstein, a vice president of the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums. In another instance he recalls, where the building had a single employee, "The super had a stroke and the doctors involved determined the super would never fully recover to do the full range of services, including hauling garbage cans up a set of stairs." The union and the building worked together in this sad circumstances, he notes, to create "a decent severance package and then a little extra."
Yet sometimes the situation is more amorphous. "I've found the supers I've had to terminate have not so much been lazy or put the building in danger, but that they've done something dishonorable," says says Peter Lehr, the director of property management at Kaled. "And you have to question that if they're doing that, then what else are they doing that's dishonorable?"
And sometimes, of course, it's illegal to fire someone, like when you discriminate against a person's race, religion, gender, perceived sexual preference and other specific "protected classes" under local and federal laws. And sometimes, too, boards are just plain wrong, thinking they have a reason when they don't.
"A board [member] will say, 'I just don't like him' or 'I run a business and I fire who I want to fire and how is this any different?'" says Rothschild. "This is different because there's a union contract which says a discharge can't be for arbitrary reasons and if the super and union want to contest the discharge, there's a right to go to grievance and arbitration."
As well, Weinstein notes, "There's different criteria in firing a super than in firing a doorman or handyman or other building employee," says Weinstein. "The contract understands the important, unique relationship of a super," who in some ways is both labor and management.
"Our last option would be to try to get rid of anybody," says Michael, the board secretary of a recently converted 130-plus-unit co-op in the South Bronx, who asked that only his middle name be used because of ongoing staff issues. "We are working on trying to figure out the best way to improve the super's performance."
In fact, that's the first step experts say a condo or co-op board should take: Making a good-faith effort to work out issues. You may try and clarify expected duties and help the super create a realistic timetable for accomplishing goals. You might also try sending the super back to school, attending seminars given by 32BJ and the CNYC.
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