People@Work: A Strike Could Leave New Yorkers Holding the Door


It happens like clockwork. Every three years or so, New York City's army of doormen, building supervisors, janitors and other building-maintenance professionals threaten to strike. And for a few days, maybe weeks, while labor talks are ongoing, New Yorkers are in a tizzy.

Upper East Siders fear there will be no one to help them with their bags or hail a cab. Across town, Upper West Siders worry there will be no one to properly sort the recyclables. And in Brooklyn, residents wonder who'll ensure their weekly food deliveries are taken in. In other words, domestic chaos is just around the corner. It was unclear whether issues would be resolved before a strike-deadline that had been set for midnight on Tuesday.

There's the usual chorus of fiery rhetoric by union leaders meant to send the message that this time, they're serious. "The steps we're taking for a possible strike are definitely beyond what we've done in the past," said Matt Nerzig of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, in speaking to the (New York) Daily News. The local represents 30,000 doormen and other workers at 3,200 apartment buildings in the city.

Laborers Want a Raise

Then there's the assurances by building owners that all will be OK. "There's no reason to believe things can't be worked out," the News quoted Jim Grossman of the Realty Advisory Board as saying on behalf of building owners.

Beyond the theatrics, however, are real issues that the parties are hammering out in round-the-clock negotiations that began last week at a midtown hotel. The laborers, naturally, want a raise, while management wants concessions, such as lower pay and no pensions for new hires, fewer sick days and increased contributions toward health-care coverage.

In the meantime, gritty New Yorkers are preparing for the worst. The Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations has distributed a kind of "duck and cover" preparedness manual on how to keep buildings running in the event of a strike, according to the New York Times. "A strike is not pleasant, nor should it be taken lightly," according to the 45-page document. "During a period of work stoppage, pressures and problems develop which make building management very difficult."

Buildings Make Contingency Plans

To maintain safety, security guards had been told to arrive at buildings an hour before the strike deadline to take over for those workers who walk off the job. Additional security measures, such as shutting down service elevators and garages and increased use of building keys, were part of the plan. Residents will also likely have to show identification to security guards and retrieve their own visitors and deliveries.

Building operations would basically shut down and residents would have to pitch in, said Dan Wurtzel, president of Cooper Square Realty. There's a lot of preparation that needs to take place in the face of a strike, he told the Times. "Then, if it doesn't happen, we can breathe a sign of relief. If it does happen, then we're prepared to deal with it."

One thing is certain, however. Should the workers strike, it wouldn't be the worst thing the city of 8.4 million people has seen in recent years. Having endured the felling of the Twin Trade Towers in 2001; an epic blackout in 2003; and a fierce hurricane-like snowstorm earlier this year, New Yorkers can honestly say they've seen it all. It's just that this time adversity means they'll have to take out their own garbage.