Strike averted: Co-op City union workers preserve employer-paid health care, see wage increases in Riverbay Corporation contract

co-op city rally
Co-op City workers voted to authorize a strike if necessary, but the bargaining committee has reached a tentative agreement on a four-year contract that the union calls a win.
Photo Aliya Schneider

Co-op City averted a strike that would have impacted the giant housing cooperative with almost 500 unionized property service workers following a tentative agreement made with Riverbay Corporation management Monday night.

The Co-op City workers are represented by the 32BJ SEIU, which represents more than 175,000 property service workers across the United States.

The agreement, which still has to be ratified by members of the 32BJ SEIU, includes a 12.47% wage increase over four years along with pension increases. The agreement also maintains the workers’ valuable 100% employer-paid health care with no premium sharing, sick leave and vacation benefits and funding for health, training and retirement.

Workers will keep their current contract until the new contract is ratified, at which point the new arrangement will retroactively apply to Thursday, June 9, the day after the current contract expires, 32BJ SEIU spokesperson Rush Perez said. While the contract must be ratified within about a month, it could be ratified as early as this week, he added.

More than 60 workers gathered in Co-op City on Thursday to authorize a strike if necessary, just under a week before the current contract is set to expire on Wednesday. But a strike won’t be necessary, with the union citing “excellent wins.”

Workers vote to allow a strike if necessary at a rally in Co-op City on Thursday. Photo Aliya Schneider

A priority for the union was ensuring management didn’t try to pull back the fully employer-paid health care, saying “no givebacks.”

“If it wasn’t obvious before, a global pandemic has made the importance of healthcare crystal clear,” Kimberly Hutchinson, a union bargaining committee member and Co-op City dispatcher and shop steward said at the rally. “We have been putting our lives on the line to keep these buildings running as we proudly serve the beautiful residents of Co-op City. Our healthcare is not something that we can chip away at. We will not let our employers take money out of our paychecks for our healthcare.”

Hutchinson also said they had not seen a retirement benefit increase in more than 10 years.

Riverbay Corporation’s general manager Noel Ellison told the Bronx Times Tuesday that management was not concerned about a strike taking place, even with the strike authorization, noting a working relationship with the union over the years.

“We know the players on both sides of the table,” he said. “They’re all reasonable people and we kind of figured that the cooler heads and smarter heads would prevail. ”

Inflation and health care were hot topics at the rally Thursday, with workers and union representatives talking about the importance of the workers’ role in keeping Co-op City functioning throughout the pandemic as the cost of living increases.

Shirley Aldebol, 32BJ executive vice president and director of NY Schools, Bronx Residential and Hudson Valley divisions, speaks about inflation and calls for wage increases at the rally on Thursday. Photo Aliya Schneider

“Today we’re just asking for a fair contract,” said Councilmember Kevin Riley, whose legislative district encompasses Co-op City. “Today we’re just asking for a desired wage. If we see everything is inflated where we go, gas is inflated, groceries is inflated, programs for our children is inflated … housing is expensive. Everything. Living in New York is expensive. Every single day there’s an expense that we have to pay.”

The Baychester Democrat said he wouldn’t be in office if it not for unions like 32BJ SEIU who supported his campaign, and that Riverbay Management assured him they would “do the right thing.”

Riverbay’s Ellison said that the management company is appreciative of the staff’s work, particularly through the pandemic, and said negotiations took place in the matter of days.

“We are very appreciative of how rapidly we came to an agreement in this particular contract,” the general manager said. ” This is by a record time and it think we both negotiated in good faith, and we believe we got a contract that makes sense for all involved. It’s never perfect for either side, but I guess that’s what helps make it a good contract.”

Riverbay deputy general manager Warren Mitchell led negotiations on the management side, Ellison added.

There are about 500 porters, grounds persons, garage attendants, public safety dispatchers, CDL drivers, utility persons and handypersons who comprise the union in Co-op City, the largest housing cooperative in the country and one of the largest residential complexes in the city, with about 45,000 residents throughout 35 buildings, according to the union.

Of the 500 service workers, 112 live in Co-op City themselves, union spokesperson Simon Davis-Cohen told the Bronx Times, adding that 423 Co-op City residents are members of 32BJ SEIU.

Reach Aliya Schneider at aschneider@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

This article was updated at 3:38 p.m. on Jun. 9.

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