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Building workers clinch tentative deal, avoid strike

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Thousands of Bronx residential workers averted a strike after reaching a tentative contract agreement late Tuesday night.

The Bronx Realty Advisory Board and the bargaining committee representing workers shook hands on a tentative deal that guarantees doorwomen, doormen, handypersons, porters and superintendents 15.4 percent raises over four years and protects their existing pension and health insurance benefits, according to their union, 32BJ Service Employees International Union. If ratified by the members, the contract would cover more than 3,000 workers in 1,000 buildings around the borough.

“This agreement honors the valuable contributions of the hardworking men and women who keep our buildings running and make our city strong,” 32BJ SEIU president Hector Figueroa said, in a release. “With this agreement, our members, our families, and our communities are moving forward.”

The wage increase is “huge,” 32BJ spokeswoman Amity Paye told The Riverdale Press — significantly larger than they’ve gotten in the past.

Workers are “really happy that they were able to keep their health insurance, their pensions,” Paye said. “But then they also were able to bargain for these higher wages that initially were meant to be cost-of-living increases but ended up being actually a little bit more than that.”

In fact, the increase means workers eventually could see $76 more a week in their paychecks, Paye said, or nearly $4,000 per year. Maybe not like winning the jackpot, but a significant boost.

The increase is spread out because the industry itself “has to be able to adjust to these types of wage increases,” Paye said, with hikes to take effect each March, ultimately reaching $32 an hour for full-time employees by 2022.

“Folks are seeing this as a huge win,” Paye said — especially after negotiations weren’t going so well.

The tentative deal came just days after hundreds of union members rallied with labor leaders and elected officials, including city comptroller Scott Stringer and borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., at Bronx Borough Hall on the Grand Concourse. There, they voted to authorize a strike if negotiations continued to falter ahead of March 14, when their contract was set to expire.

“When the workers came out so strongly at that rally, they sort of showed their strength so that the employers took them more seriously,” Paye said. “And the employers also understood the needs of the workers — to be able to take care of their families, and the benefits of these higher wages.”

Which also means greater worker retention, she added, since workers earning more are less likely to leave for a better-paying gig.

“You don’t have to replace people or train new staff, which is expensive,” Paye said. “There’s a tradeoff here for the employers.”

Elected leaders from 32BJ have negotiated since February with the advisory board — a multi-employer association that serves the real estate industry — for what they saw as a fair wage increase, fair minimum rights for new hires, and maintaining their health and pension benefits.

“I would say it’s one of the most important things — to maintain a good life, a good living, and not be worried about insurance and health care,” superintendent Angel Ortega told The Press ahead of the strike vote, which took place March 6.

Now, the union’s bargaining committee members say they plan to vote for the agreed-upon contract and encourage their co-workers to do the same, according to the union.

“We were able to win because we stayed united and we fought for what we deserve,” handyman and bargaining committee member Elpidio Molina said, in a release. “Raising the floor brings us to a new level and gives us the living wage we need.”

But one of the workers’ greatest accomplishments was holding on to healthc are and retirement benefits they already had, Molina added. “And making sure that when the time comes, we will be able to pay for health insurance, or be able to live into our old age.”

Those benefits equate to around $20,000 a year, Paye said. But whether workers would keep them was anything but certain during the bargaining process.

“There was certainly a conversation about if the benefits should be included, or which benefits, or how much,” Paye said. “It’s always a negotiation,” and slashing healthcare to compromise for increased wages even was a possibility. “But this really shows that the employers were willing to negotiate fairly and that they value their workforce.”

The realty advisory board declined multiple requests for comment.

Paye expects most residential workers in the union to earn $32 an hour by 2022.

“The union is really seeing this as a win not only for the workers, but also for the families they support in the communities that they are a part of,” Paye said. “I think it’ll be a big deal for the Bronx, and we’re looking forward to seeing that investment in the communities they’re from.”

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