Thousands of Bronx building workers poised to strike at Midnight

250,000 residents to go without supers and janitors if contract dispute remains unresolved
By Amy Tennery | March 14, 2011 07:21PM

From left: 32BJ members at a past healthcare rally and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.

After months of negotiations, a labor union that includes 3,000 building workers in the Bronx is poised to go on strike, potentially putting thousands of residents at risk of losing crucial building services.

The union, 32BJ SEIU, which also represents property service workers across the Mid-Atlantic and Florida, services roughly 1,000 buildings in the Bronx. Nearly 250,000 residents in the borough will be without superintendents, janitors, garbage handlers and other workers if the union goes on strike at 12:01 a.m., March 15, when its contracts with building owner labor representative and the Bronx Realty Advisory Board expire.

Central to the conflict between 32BJ and the Advisory Board are pension and healthcare disputes, according to Kwame Patterson, a spokesperson for the labor union. Under the Advisory Board’s proposed contract family healthcare coverage would be curtailed, while some pension accruals would be frozen, Patterson said.

“If workers were to agree to the demands of this pension freeze… they wouldn’t be eligible for [the retirement funds] that they thought they would be eligible [for] upon retirement,” Patterson said, estimating that many workers would have to put in an additional four years to receive the pension level they previously expected.

The Advisory Board did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Although it’s been roughly a decade-and-a-half since the 32BJ last went on strike, union members voted last month to authorize the move and Patterson estimated that “the likelihood of a strike is strong.”

The ongoing negotiations have drawn the attention of some Bronx politicians, including Congressman Jose Serrano, who has thrown his support behind the union. (He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.) And while Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. hasn’t gotten involved in the negotiations, his spokesperson said that his office has been in touch with the union.

“We understand that they are still in negotiation and we are hopeful a deal can be reached,” the spokesperson said, adding that the borough president’s office is “hopeful we can avert what would be an unfortunate strike.”

As of around 5:30 p.m., Patterson said that the two organizations were “not even close” to reaching an agreement, but noted that both sides were at the bargaining table, working hard to iron out a deal.

“We actually started negotiations this morning at 10 a.m. and have been going around the clock since then,” Patterson said. “We’re willing to go until the deadline.”