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RAB urges members to remain united amidst strike threat.

With the contract covering Local 32BJ employees who work in apartment buildings set to expire at midnight on April 20, the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations is urging owners and managing agents to prepare for the possibility of a strike.

While there has not been a residential strike since 1991, the union has voted to authorize one, and there are still serious issues of disagreement on the table, so the possibility remains that a strike could happen, the RAB said. The 1991 strike lasted 12 days. Adequate preparation by buildings got them successfully through the work stoppage and was a major factor in coming to a successful agreement with the union.

"I cannot stress enough the importance of preparing for the possibility of a strike," said James Berg, president of the RAB, which has met with co-ops and managing agents, as well as owners of rental units, on this topic and is distributing a building prepared ness manual. The advanced preparations outlined in the manual cover such things as securing equipment, reviewing insurance coverage, arranging for security guards, finding replacements to operate elevators, making sure enough fuel is on hand, organizing a system to collect garbage, and getting tenants to help distribute mail and accept packages.

Buildings who have not received copies of the preparedness manual can get them by calling the RAB at 212-889-4100. Co-ops can also get a preparedness manual from the NYC Council of Co-operatives at 212-4967400.

It is important for RAB members to remain functioning during a strike. Here are recommendations from the RAB if the event a strike does happen.

* Post strike notices to tenants and the public in visible locations. Samples are in the residential preparedness manual.

*It is imperative that a representative of management inspect the building daily, from roof to basement, to determine what the problems are. Management should maintain high visibility during a strike so that tenants will not feel that they are being held hostage for the benefit of others.

*During a strike, it is up to management personnel to pick up the slack. They should be instructed on various basic procedures so they can assist as required.

* For those buildings who have employees covered by the 2003 Resident Managers and Superintendents Agreement, such employees must continue to work through June 20, 2006. These resident managers and superintendents should be instructed that they are not to admit or do "favors" for anyone, especially striking personnel, even if they are longtime acquaintances.

* If you have hired replacement cleaners, consider limiting cleaning to essential or core cleaning only, discontinuing all special service work, and closing any public areas. Keep maintenance to the essentials.

* If a Local 32BJ employee was distributing mail, assign a security guard or other designated building employee to this task and arrange mail pickup with the post office.

* Arrange for alternate pickup of packages through commercial carriers, such as UPS, Fed-Ex and DHL.

* During labor disputes, vandalism or other disturbances are possible, making it critical for RAB members to secure all vulnerable areas. Make sure that security guards (whether regular employees or outside hires) have radio communication available to them, as well as updated lists of all residents and tenants, and phone numbers for police, fire and other emergency services. It may also be useful to make a video camera available.

* Report any vandalism, violence or other disturbances to the RAB immediately so that it can assess the situation and determine whether to seek an injunction against such behavior. During the 1996 commercial building strike, for example, the RAB obtained a citywide injunction after incidents of violence early on in the strike, which helped quash such activity for the remainder of the strike.

Paul Salvatore, of Proskauer Rose, labor counsel to the RAB, stresses the commitment of unity and solidarity among RAB members in seeing a strike by workers to a successful outcome for buildings. "If there is a strike, we urge you not to break rank" by capitulating to Union pressure, or by signing 'you too' agreements that representatives of the union may offer." Salvatore said.

"You too" agreements are offered during a strike in exchange for an end to the strike at your building. A "you too" agreement provides established terms and conditions of employment for your building employees--greater than what they have been offered by the RAB--with a promise that, once the strike ends and a new contract is ratified, your building will receive the terms and conditions of the RAB contract if those terms are more favorable. The Union offers such "sweet talk" as part of its "divide and conquer" approach to the buildings: the more buildings that sign the "you too" agreements, the less favorable terms for the employers the RAB is able to procure at the bargaining table for all its members, including those who stand firm and weather the strike.

"Signing 'you-too' agreements may grant temporary relief from the strike," Salvatore said, "but in the long run, it sabotages the goals of the entire real estate industry and makes operating your building more costly.

Union representatives may even claim that many defections are occurring and that owners and managing agents are signing up in droves, Salvatore warned. "Past strikes have shown that the union exaggerates how many buildings have signed a 'you too' agreement in an effort to convince other buildings to sign one. Actual defections have always been minimal," he said.

The RAB also advises to be aware of certain other strategic union tactics and be prepared to deal with them. In the past, for example, the union has leafleted tenants urging them not to pay rent during a strike. These efforts are designed to intimidate and are generally unsuccessful. The union may also strike select buildings in an attempt to "divide and conquer." Should this occur, call the RAB immediately for assistance and advice.

"We encourage all RAB members to remain united in the event of a strike and avail themselves of all the support services the RAB has to offer," Berg said. "including strike bulletins and periodic meetings that will be held during the strike to address any particular problems or concerns."
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Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Apr 5, 2006
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