As offices gradually reopen, landlords and the city’s buildings services union are offering
thousands of employees extra benefits to retire rather than risk exposure to Covid-19 at work.
The Realty Advisory Board of Labor Relations and 32BJ SEIU created an incentive program for union members who are older than 62 and have 15 years of service credit in the pension program, representatives for the organizations told The Real Deal. Participating employees will receive a one-time 401K payment of up to $20,000 and six to 10 weeks of termination pay, along with their usual retirement and health benefits. The union estimates that some 5,000 to 6,000 employees will be eligible for the program, meaning that it could cost approximately $110 million.
“It’s at a time when a lot of the industry is not flush with cash, but has nevertheless, come up with a plan to take care of our employees in their retirement,” said Howard Rothschild, president of the RAB. “That’s something I’m deeply proud of.”
As of the end of Friday, roughly 6,500 of the union’s 60,0000 commercial and residential union workers were on furlough. Rothschild said the program may result in the rehiring of some laid off workers, but staffing needs aren’t yet clear. He emphasized that the early retirement program is optional and is aimed at providing some higher-risk employees an alternative to returning to work.
“This wasn’t done to implement reductions in staff,” Rothschild said. “It was really done to enhance benefits for employees.”
32BJ President Kyle Bragg said the union initiated conversations with the RAB about incentivizing retirement. He said the union has lost 110 members to Covid-19 and wanted to make sure those who are the most vulnerable to the virus have options. He’s not sure how many members will ultimately take advantage of the program, but hopes those who are on the fence about commuting to work every day and are concerned about being exposed to the virus, will at least consider it.
“Maybe this is an opportunity to call [your] career and leave it to a younger generation,” he said. “Some will take it, others won’t. I think it’s good to have the option.”
As part of phase two of lifting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s stay-at-home order, offices were permitted to reopen at partial capacity. According to state guidelines, occupancy is limited to 50 percent in any area of an office and workers must remain six feet apart, according to the state. Throughout the crisis, 32BJ and the RAB have reached several agreements, including an extension of two contracts that were slated to expire for security officers and window cleaners. They have also repeatedly extended benefits for laid off workers, most recently to 120 days worth of coverage.
Write to Kathryn Brenzel at [email protected].