In a last-minute deal, the owners of New York’s luxury buildings and union workers reached a watershed benefits agreement that heads off strike action planned for tomorrow (Wednesday April 20) by 30,000 service personnel. The initial statement said that the accord was “tentative” and that “both sides thoroughly considered the economic hardships created by the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation to reach a fair and reasonable agreement.”
Gathering at the Sheraton Times Square for a press conference, 32 BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg and other union leaders led the crowd in celebratory cheers of “32BJ! 32BJ! All day, all day!”
Crystal Ann Johnson, a concierge/doorperson at Silver Towers and part of the 32BJ SEIU bargaining committee, was thrilled with the outcome. “I love that they listened to us. They opened their minds, they opened their hearts and they brought home a fair contract for all members,” she said. “I’m very proud to be a member today. Nothing has made me more proud than to be a 32 BJ member.”
In a statement, the Realty Advisory Board of Labor Relations (RAB) said that there would be no strike and that the essential workers have been “recognized for their outstanding work with substantial contract improvements on both sides.” The agreement was confirmed by 32BJ SEIU (32BJ), the union representing residential building service workers in four of the five boroughs. The current contract, which expires at midnight tonight, covers more than 30,000 residential building service workers, including doorpersons, porters, handypersons and building superintendents, in more than 3,000 RAB residential buildings.
Bragg emphasized the significance of reaching a deal after such a period of hardship for 32BJ workers: “In March of 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, no one really understood what was going on — but our members were showing up to work every day to make sure the tenants were safe and secure. As time passed and more and more people worked remotely, our members allowed that to happen. They kept buildings clean and sanitized, they managed double and triple the amount of deliveries — and workloads doubled and tripled. We were very proud of how our members stood up during this crisis. The courage and the dedication that they’ve shown was amazing — and through this bargaining, the RAB responded to that courage and honored that work.”
RAB President Howard Rothschild acknowledged the intense challenges that workers faced throughout the pandemic, and thanked Bragg for his partnership throughout the negotiating process: “I know both sides ultimately considered the economic hardships created by the pandemic and inflation, and we now walk away with contract improvements that all can be pleased with. We listened very carefully to union leadership and membership. There is great respect and admiration for these employees. They could not work remotely — that was not an option due to the type of work needed. They came to work every day, and should be rewarded for that. Kyle, I want to thank you for your partnership and friendship over these last almost four years. I’m proud of how our industry and this union can serve as an example for how others can successfully negotiate collective bargaining agreements for everyone’s benefit.”
The new average annual wage increase over the four-year agreement equals 3%, which will bring the total wage for a typical doorperson to approximately $62,000 by the end of the contract. The average annual wage and benefit increase will be 3.17% over the four-year contract. The agreement also includes a one-time $3,000 bonus payable after ratification of the new agreement. Under this tentative labor agreement, New York City’s 32BJ members will continue to be among the highest paid residential building service workers in the country.
The RAB and 32BJ also continue to refine and improve one of the country’s best healthcare partnerships. The 32BJ Health Fund continues to be in strong financial shape thanks to the joint stewardship of RAB and 32BJ.
Furthermore, 32BJ members will continue to receive full family health insurance covering medical, dental, optical and prescription drug coverage. The employer’s healthcare costs will be controlled and contained over the next four years through RAB and 32BJ’s innovative health plan structures and collaborative efforts to continue to bend the cost curve. New provisions of the contract include the establishment of a labor management committee that will seek additional savings on hospital prices, with a goal saving $100 million or more per year.
Additionally, the new agreement includes provisions for a smoother grievance and arbitration process, and an expedited, reasonable and consistent process for all staffing adjustments, as well as an increased new hire probationary period.
The tentative agreement is subject to ratification by both the union membership and RAB board. Once ratified, the contract will extend to April 20, 2026.
Johnson was hopeful for the next contract negotiation process: “I think they will be more open to listening and knowing what the members want and need to survive, so we really appreciate that. I feel that going forward, they are willing to open up their hearts and minds now and will listen to what their members really want.”