Update: Monday ends with no agreement between Bronx building workers, realty advisory board as Wednesday’s midnight deadline looms

The next three days will be crucial for more than 2,000 Bronx residential building workers before their current contract expires at midnight on March 14, 2023.
Photo Robbie Sequeira

Update: BRAB officials told the Bronx Times that both sides left the bargaining table Monday — the fifth such session during ongoing contract negotiations — without an agreement. Officials from 32BJ SEIU union told the Times that workers are preparing for a strike, if a negotiation is not reached before Wednesday’s deadline.

Last Wednesday, Bronx building service workers — a 32BJ SEIU union workforce of door attendants, superintendents and porters — made it known that they intend to strike if they do not receive a fair contract from Bronx Realty Advisory Board (BRAB) before a midnight deadline on March 14.

Since that rally on the steps of the Bronx Supreme Court on March 9, both sides have told the Bronx Times that talks are progressing as both parties expect to be at the bargaining table all day Monday.

One of the big changes to ongoing negotiations, BRAB officials told the Bronx Times, was the withdrawal of three proposals that had been a sticking point in contract talks including limiting worker health coverage to 5-star centers, a separate contract for superintendents and modifying the “just cause” discipline standard for superintendents.

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.

The soon-to-expire contract was collectively bargained before the pandemic in 2019.

According to BRAB — founded in the 1940s to provide full labor representation to owners of Bronx residential buildings whose maintenance employees are members of 32BJ SEIU — there is still disagreement regarding wage proposals.

“We entered into today’s round of negotiations with every intention of addressing both our impending contract deadline and industry-wide issues,” said Billy Schur, BRAB president. “However, we received from the union a wage proposal inconsistent with the notion of a partnership to support the industry in the Bronx, including the building workers.”

Last April, nearly 30,000 Manhattan building workers had threatened a strike over wage conditions, before receiving a new contract that bumps door attendant pay to $62,000 by the end of the contract in 2026. 32BJ officials say Bronx workers, such as porters and door attendants, make around $19.66 compared to a wage of $27.13 in the other boroughs.

32BJ SEIU officials told the Bronx Times they expect to be at the bargaining table throughout Monday.

“Negotiations have progressed following our Strike Vote Rally,” said Shirley Aldebol, 32BJ executive vice president and director of Bronx Residential Division. “Members made their voices heard. We made progress at the table on Thursday but we still need a contract with no givebacks, that maintains our benefits and fair wage increases that honor the work our members do everyday and how they came through for the Bronx during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have a ways to go but we’re making progress.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrinkle into recent negotiations, when building service workers were deemed essential and saw their roles and responsibilities change. Workers expressed to the Bronx Times that the pandemic — and close proximity to a virus that led to the deaths of tenants and service workers — reinforced the importance of enshrined health care and retirement benefits going forward.

BRAB has placed much of the blame on pandemic-era measures that aimed to provide financial relief for tenants such as the state’s eviction moratorium and the ERAP program – a government-funded rent relief program – which BRAB officials say was severely underfunded.

What’s resulted, according to BRAB, is a Bronx housing market riddled with backlogged rents, inflation-buoyed costs on insurance to utilities, and record levels of accumulated rental arrears.

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