April 19, 2006
New York Building Workers Rally Against a Wage Freeze
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
New York Times
The chief negotiator for New York City's real estate industry said yesterday that the two sides remained far apart as the union representing 28,000 apartment-building workers continued to threaten a strike for Friday.
The industry's negotiator, James F. Berg, called on doormen, elevator operators and other workers to accept a one-year wage freeze. But at a boisterous rally in Central Park, many union members said they would rather strike.
Mr. Berg, the president of the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, which represents owners of rental buildings, condominiums and cooperatives, said a wage freeze was warranted because the industry had already pumped $175 million into rescuing the union's health fund. He said that buildings were under financial strain because of higher taxes, fuel prices and health costs.
"The cost of operating apartment buildings has skyrocketed," he said at a news conference. He said the apartment-building workers should agree to what 25,000 office-tower workers who belong to the same union agreed to 18 months ago: a wage freeze in exchange for an industry bailout of their health fund.
But at the rally, sponsored by Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, the workers were in no mood to accept a wage freeze. Several police officials estimated that more than 5,000 demonstrators attended the rally, which filled the 79th Street Transverse from Fifth Avenue to Central Park West. The road was closed to traffic.
"I don't want to go on strike, but if we don't get a raise, we will have to," said William Courtney, a doorman at 955 Fifth Avenue. "We live in the richest city in the world. How can they justify that?"
Jose Gonzales, a doorman at 455 Central Park West, said: "I'm not worried about striking. I'm just worried about winning."
The two sides held repeated negotiating sessions yesterday at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers as part of what officials predicted would be feverish talks before the Friday deadline. The negotiators reported minor progress on noneconomic issues but no progress on the three main economic issues: wages, health insurance and pensions.
The industry wants workers to pay 15 percent of their health insurance premiums, which total $9,700 a year. The union has rejected that proposal.
Mr. Berg said many of the 3,500 buildings that faced a strike had prepared for a walkout by hiring security guards to replace doormen and by making arrangements for garbage.
Michael Fishman, the union president, criticized the proposals. "We want a decent life," he said. "We're not going to take a step back."
Sarah Garland contributed reporting for this article.