New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community
Feb. 24, 2009 — It's usually April 15 that strikes terror, or at least a resigned annoyance, in people's hearts. But this year, for co-op and condo boards at least, April 20 looms larger. Because this year is when the 2006 union agreement for your building's porters and doorpersons expires. And leaving aside, for the moment, important issues of raises and benefits — it's safe to say everyone wants their building staff to make a decent wage and have a good working environment and reasonable health and retirement plans — boards have to consider the practical effects of a strike when it comes to things like garbage pickup and residents' security.
"The most important things are communication, organization and planning," says Fred Rudd, president of the Manhattan management company and brokerage Rudd Realty. For his buildings, he says, "We have a whole package that we put together for each, to prepare them in case of a strike." He's staunch in his support for Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — "We have excellent relations with the union, and honor and respect our obligations to its members, and expect a very high standard from our employees as a result" — yet understands the prudence of preparedness.
What does this entail? According to experts surveyed for this article, four major categories:
While the superintendent's union contract is different from the doorpersons/porter contract, and since live-in supers are already on-site and not crossing picket lines to enter the building, critical physical-plant systems such as your heat and hot-water boilers in particular are likely safe. But you can't necessarily expect outside contractors and repair people to cross picket lines unless it's a life-threatening emergency, so get your building's HVAC systems, elevators and other mechanical parts checked out now.
Top off your oil tank – you don't know that you'll be able to get fuel deliveries.
Your first impression might be that it's just about keeping strangers out. But in the 12-day strike of 1991, the last time a doorperson strike occurred, striking workers at an Upper West Side building roughed up a security guard filling-in as an elevator operator. (Though lest you think violence is one-sided, residents of a nearby building, shamefully, threw garbage at strikers playing Wiffleball in front of their building.)
Twenty-fours before a possible strike, lock up machinery and equipment rooms to prevent possible sabotage. Be sure not to get paranoid: We're not talking bombs, just maybe a few "off" switches that should be "on." And one of those gigantic water valves can be hell to turn if you don't have the equipment handy.
In terms of keeping outsiders out, "We've lined up an outside security service to provide a uniformed employee to our union buildings in the event of a strike," says Rudd, "so we are making sure we have our doors covered." The most previous contract negotiations between the union and the Realty Advisory Board, the entity that represents building owners, went on until the last minute in 2006, when a strike was averted. Unless a contract is reached ahead of time this year, "On April 20th at midnight," says Rudd, "we'll probably have a man report to every one of our buildings."
At his buildings, as well, he's having ID cards made up for residents, so security personnel know who to let in. Residents might also be given front-door keys, which they don't necessarily have in doorman buildings. If you have BuildingLink or a similar "electronic doorman," you might consider feeding in images of your residents, with their permission. "Some buildings do it when it's installed," Rudd says. "Many buildings believe in privacy and don't want pictures posted. At a board meeting [I attended] last night, the board voted yes to getting pictures on the BuildingLink system, so that it's easier for guards to ID people.
Food, dry cleaning, overnight-delivery packages, maybe even mail — it's uncertain who'll deliver and who won't. A minimum-wage delivery immigrant from Communist China working for tips may or may not feel solidarity with the proletariat, but, cautions Rudd, "What normally happens is that if a strike goes on for more than a short period of time, then other unions" – including those for UPS workers and possibly for FedEx, the latter of whose workers couldn't unionize until a legal loophole got closed last year — will honor the picket lines.
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