Boosting union pay comes out of homeowners' pockets


(re: “Doormen, supers demand wage increase in new contract,” Feb. 28)

As president of the Association of Riverdale Cooperatives and Condominiums, I represent co-ops and condos on the Bronx Realty Advisory Board for purposes of contract negotiations with SEIU Local 32BJ. More specifically, I represent the individual shareholders and unit owners who directly pay all building employees.

As such, I read with particular interest the Feb. 28 piece in The Riverdale Press, and I would like to set the record straight in certain regards, and provide another point of view.

The essence of the story was that 32BJ employees — those men and women who work as building service people in most of the buildings throughout our area — deserve a fair and equitable contract. The workers understandably look forward to maintaining and improving their lives, and it must immediately be made clear and underscored that the members of the advisory board absolutely wish the very same for all 32BJ employees, and they negotiate with that concept in the forefront of all discussions.

We all are abundantly aware that employees who are content in their ability to provide for themselves and their families will probably perform best on the job, so our negotiations for a contract are always intent upon a win-win settlement. The perennial question, of course, is the interpretation of what constitutes a “win.”

The Feb. 28 story quotes a worker saying his last “raise was just a dollar,” and that was “a few years ago.”

The fact is that the current (expiring) contract provides for an annual raise, and every worker covered by the contract received a raise that averaged nearly $20 per week every year over the course of the last four years. That may sound a bit modest, but the wage increase must not be viewed in isolation from the other aspects of the work agreement (complete details, of which, are public and can easily be found online).

One must consider the total benefits package that 32BJ has long asserted to be of primary importance for their workers (more important than any wage increase); and every employer is bound to pay for every employee regardless of work title or tenure.

The current (expiring) contract provides for payment at the annual rate of $14,760 per employee to purchase health insurance. Employers must currently pay $3,744 per employee each year into their pension fund. And there are several contractual obligations that employers must also pay for their employees, including a legal fund, a training fund, and a supplemental retirement fund.

On top of those easily quantifiable figures (that must be considered in any discussion of wages), it must also be noted that all 32BJ workers already receive paid vacations of up to four weeks per year, depending on years of service. Additionally, they receive 15 paid holidays annually, including the day after Thanksgiving, and their birthday.

They are also entitled for up to 10 personal or sick days per year, paid bereavement leave, and a very generous severance pay of up to 10 weeks salary — again dependent on service.

It should go without saying that the union is currently seeking significant increases across the board in all payable aspects of the contract (including each of those mentioned above), as well as enhancing other situations.

The advisory board shares the union’s concern for the maintenance of benefits and working conditions, but recently negotiated contracts in the metropolitan area have resulted in future overall increases that outpace any anticipated increases in the cost of living.

Any argument that the union workers simply want to keep pace with the rising cost of living is specious at a time when doing so is a luxury few have been able to enjoy, witness the actual “increases” that many of our area’s residents have recently received.

Many of our neighbors in areas represented by ARC are government employees, or living on a fixed income. Over the course of the currently expiring 32BJ contract, we know full well that contracts, pensions and Social Security checks reflected cost of living increases of just 1.7 percent in 2015, zero in 2016, 0.3 percent in 2017, and a mere 2 percent in 2018 — all considerably less than union employees received in their overall contract settlement.

We all sincerely look forward to a fair and equitable settlement, but just as it is important to every co-op shareholder and condo owner that they realize the full cost of their employees’ contract and its personal implications on family budgets for the next four years, so too Local 32BJ employees should take into account that co-op shareholders and condo owners are not negotiating to ensure their personal profits (as landlords may), but rather, all increases in the overall cost of a contract are passed on directly to residents, who must individually pay out of pocket what may well be an ultimately unfair financial burden.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Both sides reportedly came to a contract agreement Tuesday night.

Stephen J. Budihas,