New Yorkers brace for possible doorman strike

Liz De La Torre

From The Associated Press

NEW YORK – They sign for deliveries, hail taxis, fix leaky faucets and, of course, open doors.

Nearly 1 million New York City apartment dwellers rely on doormen and other building workers to make life in a high-rise run smoothly. But 30,000 doormen, concierges, porters and handymen were threatening to go on strike at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, worrying many tenants.

“What do we do with the trash?” said Stafanie Howarth, who lives in a brick apartment tower in Greenwich Village. “Do we bring it outside? I don’t know.”

The union members work at luxury buildings with grand marble lobbies and at modest buildings for middle-class tenants. They mop the hallways, admit visitors and accept deliveries of groceries and Chinese food. Some will walk a tenant’s dog or assemble Ikea furniture.

Doorman Hector Matias, who works at a luxury tower near the Hudson River, said he once helped a pregnant woman whose water broke.

“The lady went into labor, and I put her in the car and buckled her seat belt,” he said with a broad grin as he recalled the story. “The baby was born minutes later.”

The job more typically involves talking to people who are lonely in the big city. “On their way home, especially at night, they tell me everything,” Matias said.

Tenants at Matias’ building pay more than $6,000 a month for two-bedroom furnished apartments with maid service. Residents include Ace Young, the former “American Idol” contestant who is appearing in “Hair” on Broadway, and New York Times best-selling author Suzanne Brockmann.

Speaking on his cell phone during an intermission, Young said, “Hector and the other guys make sure the right people get in — it’s all about the right people, my friends.”

At a building in the less glitzy neighborhood of Murray Hill, doorman Reinaldo Hernandez said many tenants are elderly or disabled.

“If they’re not feeling well, we’ll go sit with them until their nurse arrives,” Hernandez said.

Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union represents 30,000 workers at 3,200 apartment buildings.

The union and the Realty Advisory Board, which represents building owners, are fighting over wages and benefits, including health care, sick days and overtime rules. The union last went on strike in 1991.

Building workers make about $40,000 a year, plus whatever they get in tips and holiday gifts from residents, which can add up to several thousand dollars. Building owners have asked for concessions including reduced pay for new hires and fewer sick days.

“We don’t want to strike, but we may have to,” said Seamus McCormick, an Upper East Side doorman with silver braid on his uniform. “We’re just trying to make a decent living.”

Gail Silverman, who lives at 74th Street and Park Avenue, said that if the building workers walk out, she’ll worry about everything from safety to trash piling up and attracting rodents. She said her apartment is being renovated, and the work may not get done with no doorman to let contractors in.

“It could easily be halted until the strike is over, which would be very expensive,” she said.

Interior decorator Michaele Emmett had similar concerns. She was rushing to get furniture delivered to a client at a high-end condominium building before the strike deadline. “I’ve already lost money to put in rush delivery orders for furniture,” she said.

Some buildings had contingency plans in place for a possible strike.

Silverman said she and her neighbors have been asked to sign up to work a doorman shift, sort mail or collect garbage.

“We all really have to do our part,” she said.