New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community
Frank Lovece in Board Operations on December 19, 2013
Once you have objective documentation — as detailed in the current union contract — you have five business days after firing the super to provide him with a written statement of reasons for dismissal, and 30 days from then to get him out of his apartment. (In exceptional cases, the contract allows for immediate vacancy.)
That 30 days gets put on hold if the super asks for a mediation with the Joint Industry Grievance Committee, part of the alliance between the building workers' union, Local 32BJ, and the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations (RAB). Many times, at this juncture, the super will try to fight the firing personally by rallying support among the residents. Getting signatures on a petition is a common tactic — although board members say it usually carries little weight because their decision is generally based on information the residents don't have.
If grievance mediation doesn't work, the case goes to union and the RAB's joint Office of the Contract Arbitrator at 7 Penn Plaza in Manhattan. There, an independent arbitrator determines if a firing was justified. Boards are represented by RAB attorneys, provided free as part of a building's annual dues. RAB lawyers are also available to answer questions before it gets to that point.
The super is entitled to severance pay — a minimum of four weeks' salary and a maximum of 11 weeks after eight years of service. "Often what happens in these cases," says Howard Rothschild, president of the RAB, "is there is some sort of negotiated settlement: ‘We'll give you a certain amount of time in the apartment and a certain amount of additional severance pay,' and the super leaves."
The union acknowledges this is common practice. "There certainly will be many cases where the union is going to fight very hard to protect the rights of the building workers, and in some cases that might come into conflict with perceptions of the board," says a spokesperson. "But we feel we do everything we can to ensure that there's a working situation and conditions that keeps both partners happy."
Once an accord is reached, the union expects a super to honor it. At Maoui's building, where the board reached a severance-plus agreement, the dismissed super "didn't honor his end of the bargain — he was supposed to move out August 2 and didn't," the board VP says. " And that actually pissed off the union pretty much."
Getting It Right
The apartment issue is, indeed, a big one. "One of my supers was fired just recently and he refused to vacate his apartment," says Arthur I. Weinstein, a vice president of the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums and an attorney in private practice. "The union sustained the firing, and the super still refused to leave." But the ousted employee still "has some legal protection while he's in occupancy. You can't lock him out. You have to use the legal [eviction] process in addition to the contract process." Meanwhile, the old super remains in his unit — even as the new super begins work.
In this instance, the new super was a promoted handyman, who also happened to have an apartment in the building. If not, the new super would have had to commute. Maoui's board, facing a super who might not move out immediately, forthrightly told prospective hires the co-op was willing to rent the new super an apartment nearby in the interim.
Both Job and Home
If there is one overarching point to remember, it is the severity of a situation where a job and a home are ending simultaneously. Boards — possibly because a firing is so devastating and also because they delegate the actual action to management — "can get detached from it and their emotions shut down. For whatever reason, they become hard cases," says Peter Lehr, the director of property management at Kaled.
"We let a guy go in April," says Lehr. "He said, 'I'm not going to contest it, you got me, I understand. But I can't change my kid out in school -- I've got to have until the end of June.' OK, that's a reasonable request. Just because the employee didn't do the right thing, you still have to remember when you let somebody go it affects the whole family's lives, and you have to respect that."
Illustration by Marcellus Hall. Click to enlarge
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