Doorman strike could bring showings to a halt

Brokers are split over whether a strike is coming

New York /
Apr.April 19, 2022 04:00 PM

(iStock, 32BJ-SEIU/Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)

UPDATED April 19, 2022, 4:40 p.m.: New York’s doormen are poised to strike Thursday if they can’t reach a collective bargaining agreement with building owners when their current one ends Wednesday.

For brokers, a work stoppage would be bad for business.

Landlords have notified real estate agents that they will halt in-person showings and open houses if doormen stop showing up to the job. The reason is two-fold: to prevent prospective buyers and tenants from viewing properties that aren’t being serviced and to ensure the safety of building residents.

“It’s not just about how beautiful an apartment is,” said Mihal Gartenberg, an agent at Coldwell Banker Warburg. “It’s about an experience the minute you walk through the door into the lobby.”

“If that’s not something that’s representative or inviting, it’s better to hold off,” she added.

The doormen and other building service workers represented by union 32BJ SEIU keep 3,000 city buildings running smoothly. They sort mail and packages, check in residents, take out the trash and keep entrances tidy, in some instances vacuuming three times a day, Gartenberg said.

If those workers strike, that upkeep falls on building residents. And sellers aren’t keen on prospective buyers entering buildings where shareholders are the ones hauling garbage to the cellar.

Plus, if doormen form picket lines, building superintendents would be the sole gatekeepers.

Some landlords may choose to hire security guards to check residents’ IDs.

“But basically, buildings go into lockdown,” said Ellen Sykes, another agent at Coldwell Banker Warburg. “There are too many people coming in and out to keep track of, so they minimize the number of people they have to worry about.”

“That’s why they don’t let showings happen,” she said.

Other agents said landlords may temporarily suspend move-ins and move-outs to control building traffic.

Despite the fears, brokers are split over whether the 32BJ will carry out a strike.

“I recall the last time a strike was threatened, it was also resolved before it happened,” said Gartenberg, referring to a 2018 resolution reached a week before 32BJ’s contract expired.

However, Sykes said after working through the pandemic, she sees the union pulling out all the stops to get the deal they believe they deserve.

The Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, which represents owners, staked out a negotiating position that called for cuts to workers’ paid vacation and sick leave, plus a mandate that doormen contribute to their health insurance, which building and apartment owners currently cover.

32BJ, citing rising rents in the third year of the pandemic, is pushing for higher wages and better benefits.

“The doormen are going to say, ‘Hey, we were there when you needed us. We showed up even when it was dangerous to ride the subways,” Sykes said. “Now you have to reward us.”

The broker said the strike could be the catalyst that would get owners “really working at the negotiating table.”

Kyle Bragg, the president of 32BJ-SEIU told NY1 that negotiations were “progressing” and that he was hopeful the union and landlords would “find a path to a resolution.” Late Tuesday afternoon, the two sides announced they had reached a tentative agreement that will require ratification by the union’s members.

If the doormen do strike, not every building will stop showings.

Gartenberg said she has a listing hitting the market Thursday that will move forward with viewings.

“So it’s really case-by-case,” she said.

It’s likely any work stoppage would be short-lived. The last time doormen walked out, in 1991, the strike lasted all of 12 days.

Sykes, who remembers that impasse, said the event was more of a hiccup, with no significant impact on the market for sales or rentals.

In the unlikely event that a work stoppage lasted for months, it could drive some shareholders, fed up with shouldering maintenance duties, to sell, or at least skip town.

“But you know, they did that with Covid and then they came back,” she said. “It would be temporary.”

This article has been updated with news of a tentative agreement between 32BJ SEIU and the Realty Advisory Board.





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