Both sides in the negotiations for a new contract covering 1,400 doormen, superintendents, handymen and women, porters and others working in residential buildings in the Hudson Valley hope to avoid a strike by reaching agreement on a new contract before the old one runs out on Sept. 30. Negotiations formally began in White Plains on Aug. 15, and additional sessions have been scheduled throughout September.
About 100,000 people live in the rental, coop and condo apartment buildings where local affiliate 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (32BJ SEIU) has jurisdiction. Representing the management side is the Building and Realty Institute of Westchester and the Mid-Hudson Region Inc. (BRI).
Lenore Friedlaender, assistant to the president of 32BJ SEIU, told the Business Journal, “The economy is doing well, and real estate is in good economic health. We have a lot of faith in the bargaining process that we can reach a fair agreement.”
Friedlaender explained that her union members work in the vast majority of residential buildings that have 50 units or more. Although the union also represents workers in commercial buildings, including retail facilities such as the Galleria Mall in White Plains, the contract under negotiation only covers workers in residential buildings. However, the elements of that contract also will be used by the union in negotiating with individual companies that hire union workers and provide services such as cleaning to building operators.
“For the tenants of the buildings, we do want them to know that our members care about them,” Friedlaender said. “We hope that the BRI will recognize that the next contract should maintain the level of benefits that have created a strong, stable culture of service among building workers, while keeping up with the region’s rising costs.”
Attorney Matthew Persanis of the firm Elefante and Persanis in Eastchester is the BRI’s labor counsel and chief negotiator and has been representing the BRI in contract negotiations with 32BJ SEIU for 24 years. “In years past, we’ve had quite a bit of animosity, but in the last few years we’ve had a chilling of the animosity and have established a good working relationship,” he told the Business Journal.
“I think the major point for us is to increase productivity. We don’t have a problem offering health care (and) pensions to the men and women that work for it,” Persanis said, but added that the major issue is controlling the costs. In various industries, union workers who in the past have received health insurance coverage at no cost are increasingly being required to pay a portion of those costs.
“Health care, as everyone knows, increases dramatically every year. In this situation, the union members do not pay anything toward their own health care; it’s fully employer supplied, so the cost control of that is what we need to discuss,” Persanis said.
Persanis noted that some outdated work rules from the 1940s were not removed from the contract with 32BJ SEIU until a few years ago and more fine-tuning is needed. “Obviously nobody burns coal anymore, burning of trash is illegal … but we still have a ways to go. Today, everything is controlled by computers, the heating systems are computer driven and you need staff to work with those computers,” he said.
His message to those across the table as negotiations continue while the Sept. 30 deadline draws closer: “Let’s get it done on time and on budget.”