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Sidestepping a Strike: The Me-Too Method of Keeping Workers Working

Kathryn Farrell in Building Operations on March 20, 2014

March 20, 2014

Those words allow many buildings to avoid the inconveniences of a strike. They are shorthand for a "me-too" agreement. A private arrangement between the union and an individual building, me-too agreement allow the property's union workers to remain on the job during a walkout. Depending on whom you ask, it is either a logical option for many buildings or it is a terrible blow to the position of the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations (RAB) in its ongoing negotiations with the Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Private handshake

Here's how it works. If, during the course of contract talks, the two sides can't reach common ground, the union calls for a strike. Right before that happens, union representatives reach out to buildings with an offer: Sign this private agreement, and your union employees will keep working — even during a strike. Once a settlement is reached, you'll be party to the new contract. Sometimes, property managers reach out to the union regarding such an agreement as well.

Buildings that sign face

no repercussions and 

their RAB membership

is not revoked.  

The RAB is none too happy about this, saying that a "direct agreement between the union and a specific building" undermines its negotiating position — which ultimately hurts the cooperatives and condominiums on whose behalf it negotiates. An RAB spokesperson was blunt, stating in an e-mail: "Just like the union, the RAB relies on the support of its members, so these side agreements ultimately hurt the negotiating process and can undercut the management negotiating committee and employer solidarity." Indeed, fewer buildings equals less clout at the bargaining table.

Mixed opinions

Still, to some condo and co-op boards, it sounds like a good deal, which is why many buildings sign. Generally speaking, those signatories tend to be larger, full-service co-ops and condos, ones that need a large staff to open front doors and handle garbage and recyclables, among other duties.

It's also clear why many managers are ambivalent about "me-too" agreements. Ellen Kornfeld, a vice president at The Lovett Group, says they mean "less work for me —  less hassle." But she considers them ultimately counterproductive to the RAB. "If they don't have enough people supporting them, how do they get the best deal?"

Still, not every manager is equivocal on the issue. Andrea Bunis, president of Andrea Bunis Management, says the me-too has a pair of strong benefits: It saves shareholders from the disruptions of a strike, and it keeps employees working. "Most of the staff doesn't want to go out on strike —  they want to work," she says. "They have a livelihood to protect." 

No Fallout For Saying "Me Too"

Boards that are of two minds about signing a "me-too" agreement may wonder whether there will be consequences to doing so. The answer seems to be no. According to property managers who spoke to Habitat on condition of anonymity, buildings that sign do not face any repercussions and their RAB membership is not revoked.   

 

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