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Owners prepare for porters strike.

Commercial building managers are preparing for the possibility of a service employees strike as most contracts expire on Dec. 31.

Whatever the outcome, tenants are certain to feel the effects at least in their pockets, as many lease escalations are still tied to the results of the porter wages.

Formal contract talks with Local 32B-32J, which represents the porters, handypersons, forepersons, door openers, cleaners, utility workers, concierges, elevator starters and operators, had not yet begun with the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations. Formal talks were expected to begin

The same terms will cover the security guards contract which is not up until Feb. 28 and the superintendents, who were formerly Local 164, and whose contracts expire Jan. 31. Guards and superintendents would have to remain on duty if the others walk out under strike provisions in their contracts.

The Service Employers Association typically negotiates a separate contract with Local 32B-32J for those buildings that subcontract out the work, however, this year, the contract results may not be as different as they are now.

For instance, the Service Employees contract has a cleaning limitation of 4,000 square feet per hour but the Realty Advisory Board contract does not. Another Service Employee provision requires permission to reduce staff even with drastic changes in the number of tenants.

James F. Berg, executive vice president of the Realty Advisory Board, which represents 1,000 building owners, has said he would like to coordinate efforts to avoid such adverse positions. Last week, a representative of the Service Employers said it was too soon to consider even those kinds of procedural issues adding it was not advantageous to discuss its bargaining positions. Jim Grossman, a spokesperson for the Realty Advisory Board, added that the goal is to conform wherever possible.

These 30,000 service employees have not struck in more than 40 years but market conditions are creating an opportunity for owners to take a strong stance on contract provisions that previously have gone unchallenged. It is still unclear how willing the employees are to go hitting the streets but that may change on New Year's Day.

"To say there is going to be a strike is premature," noted Grossman.

Meanwhile, owner .representative Edward Riguardi said a strike survival guideline was in the process of being sent out to all Realty Advisory Board members last week. "We decided to prepare a guideline to help owners and agents prepare for a strike," he said. "It behooves all of us as business people to prepare."

Riguardi said the manual covers such items as security, alarms, communication with tenants and determining who is to be the responsible person in Charge of fuel supplies, garbage, etc.

Last year,. the residential properties settled their negotiations with the same union after 12 days of picketing. The residential settlement contained a 3.46 percent increase in wages in the first year, 3.97 percent the second year and 4.22 percent in the third year. Combining wages and an annuity contribution brought the increase to 3.65, 4.35 and 4.37 percent respectively.

At that time, Riguardi, president of the commercial real estate firm Koeppel Tener Riguardi, looked ahead to these talks and said, "In our industry, we have been most fortunate to have responsible union leaders and it has been our experience that we've always been able to resolve our differences and conclude adequate and fair agreements for our employees. I am sure that in the future the officers of the unions we interface with will be responsive to the unfortunate real estate business climate we are experiencing today and hopefully not too long in the foreseeable future."

This he said, is as true today as it was then but it will take strong leadership this time because we have serious problems.

Since then, the office market has been even more battered with many large tenants consolidating into smaller but better locations.

The Realty Advisory Board figures show a handyperson making $590.48 or $30,705 per year. Porters and cleaners make $541.48 per week which totals $28,157 per year. Pension costs are $869 per year and health benefits are $3,683 per year. Building employees also get two to five weeks vacation and 12 paid holidays, 10 sick days that are paid if not used plus two paid days to attend their health clinic.

According to the Service Employers Association, buildings pay a different wage depending on their classification. The 1992 hourly wage for a Class A building handyperson is $14.7620 per hour without counting certain benefits that can bring the actual cost to approximately $18 per hour. Class B and Class C hourly rates depend on the building size but is at least $14 without benefits. The least paid employees are the guards who make $12.08 per hour without benefits.

"The pay rate for the past fifteen years has exceeded the cost of inflation and the current porter wage is higher than the median household wage in New York City and higher than that earned by municipal employees with the same positions," said Grossman. "They are in the top one third of all wage earners in New York City.'

While contract talks proceed, property managers were preparing their staffs. "We're hopeful that there won't be a strike," said Vince Silvestri, a spokesperson for Rockefeller Center. "We're right now working on our plans to provide as close to normal service to our tenants as possible with the least amount of disruption."

Darryl Scherba, senior managing director of Williams Real Estate, said they are preparing for a strike as well. "In their wish list they are asking Santa Claus for everything in the world that isn't called for in this marketplace," he said.

While Scherba feels the industry is more united than it has been in the past, the firm is still going through strike preparedness drills and advising managers and tenants on procedures.
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Title Annotation:commercial building owners plan for strike of service employees
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Dec 23, 1992
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