Paula Chin in COVID-19 on March 12, 2021
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s announcement last week that public-facing essential building service workers will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as of March 17 was welcome – if long overdue – news for the co-op and condo community. The property management industry was up in arms that co-op and condo staffers deemed essential during the peak of the pandemic had been left off the vaccine priority list, and now they’re stepping up to help get shots in the arms of building service workers.
Orsid New York is taking a team approach by partnering up with B’Nai Jeshurun synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where volunteers are helping secure vaccination appointments for workers at its properties who are unable to do so on their own.
“These volunteers were already helping the seniors in their community navigate the complexity of the sign-up process, so the structure was already in place,” says Neil Davidowitz, Orsid’s president. The service is now being offered at 60 of Orsid’s larger buildings, but Davidowitz is hoping to ramp up to 100 buildings by next week, and eventually the company’s entire portfolio.
To notify workers of the volunteer program, Orsid is sending flyers in English and Spanish to supers to hand out to their staffers, as well as providing employment verification letters for every employee. “We are cognizant that we’re dealing with a mostly minority population that is reluctant to get vaccinated,” Davidowitz says, adding that there was considerable discussion about whether vaccinations should be mandated. “It’s a complex legal issue that is still evolving, and our decision was to deal with that down the line,” he says. “Rather than mandating, we want to commence this program in a positive way by supporting our employees, educating them and addressing their concerns.” So far, that philosophy seems to be working, he adds. “In just two days, we have 25 people who already have appointments, and some have been vaccinated already.”
Richland Management in Great Neck is offering a different inducement – a stimulus payment. The company, which specializes in small to midsize co-ops and condos, is offering a $50 gift card to building workers who agree to get a COVID-19 vaccine. “These are employees, everyone from painters who do jobs for us regularly to the cousin of the super who comes in and cleans when the super goes on vacation,” says Tom Flood, Richland’s vice president.
Flood was inspired to offer the cash incentive after reading studies showing that modest financial incentives can encourage compliance and get people to change their behavior. “Actually, overpaying doesn’t help,” he says. “It’s the small gestures that work best, and I think that’s especially true with people born outside the U.S. who are distrustful of the vaccine.” To overcome that skepticism, Richland is putting up flyers and notices about the COVID-19 vaccine at all of its properties, as well as putting notice of the incentives where workers are guaranteed to see it – in their paycheck envelopes.
“I can’t stress enough how service workers have been putting themselves – and their families and the children – in danger,” says Flood, who points out that one of New York City’s first COVID-19 victims, 52-year-old Juan Sanabria, was a doorman in the Bronx. “I’ve already had conversations with some of our workers who had no idea that they were eligible for the vaccine or didn’t feel they deserved to get it. We’re hoping the incentive and the education will change their minds.”
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