Strike-ready Bronx building workers, realty advisory board differing on wages as midnight deadline looms

Bronx residential building workers rally last week, as a potential strike looms over contract negotiations with the Bronx Realty Advisory Board.
32BJ SEIU union officials say that 2,712 workers across 894 co-ops, condos and apartment buildings could be participating in a strike if they do not receive a fair contract from the Bronx Realty Board before the expiration of their existing contract.
Photo Robbie Sequeira

Across the borough, a fleet of Bronx building service workers — porters, door attendants, handy-persons and superintendents — are preparing to go on strike if Tuesday’s last-ditch negotiating session doesn’t result in a new contract before midnight, when their pre-pandemic labor contract with Bronx Realty Advisory Board (BRAB) expires.

Heading into Monday’s negotiations, both the board and union workers with 32BJ SEIU felt that talks were progressing when BRAB withdrew three proposals that had been sticking points, including limiting worker health coverage to 5-star centers, a separate contract for superintendents and modifying the “just cause” discipline standard for superintendents.

But both sides left the bargaining table Monday — the fifth such session during ongoing contract negotiations — without an agreement and increased tensions.

Officials from 32BJ SEIU told the Bronx Times that the gulf in negotiations revolves around wages, stating that BRAB offered a six-month extension for contract talks Monday with zero increases and a proposal, they say, to peg essential workers’ wages and benefits to a pending decision of the NYC Rent Guidelines Board.

“Our members are now in full-blown preparation for a possible strike. These essential workers have kept residents safe and felt the cost of COVID-19 and its economic pressures,” said Shirley Aldebol, 32BJ executive vice president and director of the Bronx Residential Division. “After five bargaining sessions the BRAB backtracked and derailed our session [Monday] by offering a six month contract extension with zero wage increases and the potential for several years of wage freezes and benefits cuts. We made an offer that was consistent with past BRAB negotiations and negotiations in other residential contracts that have settled since the onset of the pandemic.”

BRAB officials told the Bronx Times that they believe the union “refused” to counter their offer, which they say is based on an uncertain housing market — fueled by the pandemic — and economic turmoil caused by a spree of banking closures in recent days.

“We have said at every bargaining session that we want to work with Local 32BJ in securing decent wages and benefits for their members but they refused even to counter our good faith wage and benefits proposal, which is based on the economic realities of today,” said BRAB president Billy Schur. “The BRAB proposed accepting the union’s benefits proposals and establishing an objective mechanism for raises for the workers.  Hopefully, we can reach an agreement before tomorrow night’s deadline, but the union is making it increasingly difficult.”

32 BJ union officials say that 2,712 workers across 894 co-ops, condos and apartment buildings could be participating in a strike. Despite Tuesday’s snowy forecast, 32BJ members will gather in North Riverdale at noon for strike preparation and mobilization.

When asked what contingency plans are place in the event of a strike, BRAB officials told the Times that those plans would need to be developed by the individual buildings in question.

The current contract covers 1,404 workers at 433 co-ops, condos and apartment buildings. But the negotiations also impact 374 buildings and 950 other workers who are covered by a linked “Bronx Master Independent Agreement.” A further 87 buildings and 358 members are covered by separate contracts that are indirectly impacted, according to 32BJ SEIU.

That contract, which expires on 11:59 p.m. Tuesday night, was collectively bargained before the pandemic in 2019.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes