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SEIU residential building workers authorize strike

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Photo courtesy of 32BJ SEIU’s Facebook page.

Superintendents, porters and other residential building employees have authorized their union to call a strike, if necessary, as their contract is about to expire.

An estimated 600 to 700 members of the local affiliate 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (32BJ SEIU) unanimously approved the strike resolution by acclamation, spokesman Frank Soults said Thursday at the Westchester County Center.

The union represents 1,400 members who work at about 500 apartment buildings, co-ops and condominiums in Westchester and nearby counties. The buildings and their management companies are represented by the Building and Realty Institute of Westchester & The Mid-Hudson Region (BRI).

The vote was “fully expected,” said Albert Annunziata, BRI’s executive director. “It’s something the union, from a procedural point of view, has to do. But we are very confident as to reaching an amicable and workable agreement and contract.”

He estimated that BRI represents close to 70 percent of the residential buildings in the region. The union estimates that 100,000 tenants and owners live in the buildings.

The SEIU-BRI contract expires on Sept. 30.

“The big issue for us,” said Lenore Friedlaender, assistant to the president of 32BJ SEIU, “is maintaining the health and retirement benefits that workers currently enjoy and getting a raise to keep up with the cost of living.”

Base wages currently range from $39,000 a year for the lowest-level workers to $40,820 a year for superintendents. Employers also contribute about $22,000 a year per employee to health care, pension, legal, savings and training funds.

Friedlaender and Soults said BRI negotiators have not discussed money or made counter-proposals during three bargaining sessions. The strike authorization, Friedlaender said, is a message: “The members are willing to take action to protect their standard of living.”

“I don’t see any reason why we would not reach an agreement,” she said, “but we have to be prepared for any eventuality.”

Annunziata noted that BRI and the union have enjoyed excellent labor-management relations for many years. Though there are a “few sticky issues,” he said, the bargaining has been part of the normal “give and take.”

“We’re fully confident in coming to an agreement,” he said.

Three bargaining sessions are scheduled from Sept. 24 to the end of the month.

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