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Building Workers Union, Bronx Building Owners Agree to Small Wage Hike

The contract would maintain workers’ medical coverage, but the Bronx Realty Advisory Board, which represents building owners, can end the deal after one year.

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Bronx building service workers at the vote to authorize a strike last week.

Jonathan Custodio/THE CITY

The labor giant representing hundreds of superintendents, porters, door attendants and handypersons in private residential buildings in The Bronx, who are paid considerably less than their counterparts in other boroughs, reached a modest deal with building owners on Tuesday night, just before their contract ended at midnight

The contract with building owners represented by the Bronx Realty Advisory Board (BRAB) nominally covers four years and includes a wage increase of 50 cents an hour in the first year, then 60 cents, 72 cents, and 75 cents in the following three years, for a total increase that BRAB said came to an average of 3% a year. A 32BJ spokesperson framed that as a $102.80 weekly raise by the end of the four-year deal.

The raises, however, have an expiration date just around the corner. BRAB won a provision allowing it to reopen contract negotiations on March 1, 2024, with the contract expiring at the end of the month if the two sides don’t reach a new agreement, effectively making the four-year deal into a one-year agreement with building owners having an option to extend it, or not, after that. 

The new deal maintains workers’ current health coverage, which union leaders had said faced an “existential threat” from a BRAB proposal that would have forced workers to pay out of pocket for all visits to specialists or hospitals. It also kept the threshold for how many hours a week an employee needs to work to be represented by the union at 16, after BRAB had tried to raise that to 20. 

BRAB also failed to win a previously proposed six-month extension to reach a contract agreement to determine wage increases based on how high the Rent Guidelines Board would increase rents in October, with the union dismissing that idea as a non-starter. 

The new agreement, which still needs to be ratified by members, did put off the threat of a strike — after 32BJ members had authorized at a rally at Bronx Borough Hall last Wednesday — until at least next April.

“Workers made their voices heard loud and clear,” said Shirley Aldebol, an executive vice president at SEIU 32BJ, the powerful municipal union representing the building workers, adding that the deal “preserves benefits and wins wage increases that reflect the sacrifices these Bronx workers made throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the hard work they put in every day to keep residents safe.” “Thank you to all involved – especially to building staff members who have worked so hard over the last four years in the most difficult of circumstances,” BRAB president Billy Schur said in a statement Tuesday night. “We thank SEIU Local 32BJ leadership for working with us to come to an agreement that will help us to continue serving the Bronx community.”

Schur had noted earlier Tuesday morning that “several prominent city and state elected officials, including Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, State Senator Gustavo Rivera, and City Councilmember Rafael Salamanca called me personally to urge us to come to an immediate agreement with SEIU 32BJ.”

The contract covers 1,404 superintendents, porters, handypersons and door attendants across 433 co-ops, condos and rental apartment buildings represented by BRAB, which “was founded in the 1940’s to provide full labor representation to owners of Bronx residential buildings whose maintenance employees are members of the Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ” according to its website. 

The deal also impacts another 950 workers at 374 buildings covered under a separate but linked contract and an additional 358 members at 87 buildings covered by separate contracts, according to the union.

Building service workers in New York City have not held a strike since 1991, when 32BJ held out for 12 days before reaching an agreement with the Realty Advisory Board, which represented building owners in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. 

Bronx residential workers were covered by a different union, 32E, until the early 2000s. The workers have been paid considerably less than their counterparts in the other four boroughs, according to 32BJ, which has said that porters and door attendants in BRAB buildings under its previous contract had made an average hourly wage of $19.66 — compared to a typical wage of $27.13 in the other four boroughs.  

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