Living in New York City luxury buildings could soon get rough

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Working from home could soon have a whole new meaning for New Yorkers living in luxury buildings. If service workers — which include doormen and women, porters, superintendents, maintenance personnel and concierges — carry out a citywide strike on Wednesday, ritzy residents could be on the hook for everyday tasks such as taking out their own trash, picking up packages and patrolling the lobby.

“As much as I respect my doormen and want the best for them, I’m a little nervous about a strike,” admitted Alyssa, 30, who lives in a 34-floor high-rise in Midtown East. “It would involve giving up a lot of luxuries and conveniences that we pay for.”

If Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ — which represents 32,000 residential building service employees — can’t reach a deal with the Realty Advisory Board over management’s proposal to cut sick days and vacation time and make employees contribute to their health insurance, it plans to strike later this week. More than 3,000 buildings and 555,000 apartments would be affected. Many residents are being asked to prepare to take volunteer shifts, and they’re not happy about it.

The building 220 Central Park South
Residents in luxury buildings may have to pitch in with tasks like garbage duty, package pick-ups and lobby security if building workers strike on April 20.
Matthew McDermott
Outside a luxury building in New York City.
Luxury buildings have asked residents to volunteer amid a potential building worker shortage on April 20.
John Lamparski/Getty Images

“I did not agree to pay approximately $1 gazillion per month to live in a building with no trash service or where I can’t get food/groceries/packages delivered,” posted one disgruntled renter on Reddit.

Alyssa’s building — which is equipped with a concierge, valet, dry cleaners, a package collection center, a gym, sauna and a roof deck — sent around a sign-up earlier in the month “requesting that you fill in all the hours you may be available so that we can schedule coverage for the lobby area throughout the day.” Alyssa, who pays $3,300 a month for rent with her partner, said she “might consider” pitching in “but I’m really hoping it doesn’t [happen].”

Ardist Brown, 61, a concierge for 34 years on the Upper West Side, noted that at the Central Park West building he works at, only one resident had signed up for lobby duty in case of a strike.

Image of Upper West Side concierge Ardist Brown, 61.
Ardist Brown, 61, has been a concierge on the Upper West Side for 34 years.
Courtesy of Ardist Brown

One of his residents, Alisa Kauffman, 62, said she would consider signing up but was hesitant.

“If I had to step in, I probably would. Would I want to? No, because I don’t think it’s an easy job and I don’t think we’re going to be safe and secure without real doormen,” said Kauffman, a dentist. “The city has its issues, and we absolutely wouldn’t want anyone to take advantage of us not being protected well should there be a strike. They [building workers] were the ones who were on the front lines, now all they’re asking for is health benefits. This is all so upsetting.” 

She wasn’t optimistic about her neighbors stepping up to pitch in.

Alisa Kauffman
One resident, Alisa Kauffman, said being a doorman is not easy job. “I don’t think we’re going to be safe and secure without real doormen.”
Clinton M McCoy

“No one even wanted to give out Halloween candy this year because of COVID, let alone take on another job that involves sitting at a post and making sure people are coming into the building that are supposed to be there or putting out the trash for your neighbors. This strike can’t happen. They have to figure this out.”

But Brown imagined that some residents would simply flee in the event of a strike, rather than stay put and worry about their safety.

“Some of them are going to leave — just like when the pandemic hit — and ride it out,” said Brown, who relied on his sick days when he contracted the novel coronavirus in 2020 and went the extra mile to care for residents at the height of the pandemic, bringing them food and looking after pets.

“Some of them said they’ll go to their weekend homes and come back when it’s over.”

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