It has been nearly two decades since New Yorkers faced their last doorman strike, but as the deadline for a new contract for building workers approached, the questions being posed throughout the city remained largely unchanged on Sunday.
Who will safeguard my apartment as I sleep? Greet my children when they come home from school? Accept deliveries? Clean the hallways? Sort the mail? Operate the elevator? And who, for goodness sake, will let the cleaning lady in?
Residents, co-op boards and building management companies have been busy planning for the sudden complications that could come at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday with the possible departure of the building workers who, among many other things, hold open the city’s doors.
The Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations has distributed a preparedness manual with recommendations for keeping buildings in operation in case of a strike. “A strike is not pleasant, nor should it be taken lightly,” according to the 45-page document. “During a period of work stoppage, pressures and problems develop which make building management very difficult.”
Throughout the city, security guards have already been alerted to arrive at buildings an hour before the negotiating deadline so they can take over for the first overnight shift in the event of a walkout. Many buildings would then adopt a more restrictive policy, with residents being required to use building keys, display identification to the security guards and pick up visitors or deliveries themselves. Some buildings are planning to take service elevators, storage rooms and garages out of operation if there is a strike.
“The whole operation of the building would basically be shut down and we’d rely on residents to pitch in just to get by,” said Dan Wurtzel, president of Cooper Square Realty, one of the largest residential management companies in the New York. “There’s a tremendous amount of preparation we have to undertake. Then, if it doesn’t happen, we can breathe a sign of relief. If it does happen, then we’re prepared to deal with it.”
Many buildings have also posted sign-up sheets for residents to volunteer to watch the front doors, clean hallways and take out garbage, though the forms in the lobbies of a handful of Upper East Side buildings remained mostly blank on Sunday afternoon.
Mary Ann Rothman, executive director of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums, has signed up for volunteer work in her own co-op.
“If there is a positive thing to be pulled out of this, it’s that it is an opportunity to get to know your neighbors,” she said, “and to come together to combat a little bit of adversity, because this is not the end of the world, though it may appear that way if the strike goes on.”
Arriving on Park Avenue on Sunday, Robert Neis, a marketing executive, immediately asked his doorman for assistance with the luggage from a family getaway to Shelter Island, N.Y. “It would be a bummer if they strike,” Mr. Neis said. “It’s a lot nicer when they help with the work.”
Harold Gerber, who runs a real estate business and has lived in his co-op on East 75th Street for more than two decades, said he was already worried about security, and grumbled at the prospect of hauling his own trash. “It will affect us tremendously,” he said.
Some doormen were skeptical that contract workers or volunteers would be able to take up their duties. Salvador Gonzalez, a doorman at a building on the Upper East Side, said that as the deadline approached, he has even added a new responsibility to his usual assortment of tasks: giving inquiring residents tips on how to do his job.
Though many residents on Sunday said they believed that a deal would be reached before the deadline, little progress was made during contract negotiations over the weekend, said Matt Nerzig, chief spokesman for Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union.
The 30,000 residential doormen, porters, superintendents, elevator operators and handymen now earn an average of $40,500 a year, with benefits raising the total to nearly $70,000, according to the Realty Advisory Board, which represents building owners. The workers are seeking wage increases, while building owners are pushing to reduce benefit costs.
“We’re working hard, we’re talking,” Ms. Rothman said. “There’s a lot of good will on both sides and very different feelings about the current economic situation.”
“I don’t think anyone wants a strike,” she added.