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With union contracts for 30,000 New York City apartment building workers set to expire in less than two weeks, the two sides seem set on playing their usual game of chicken until the last minute.
Meanwhile, as landlords and boards prep for a strike, some are probably flirting with the idea of signing a separate “me too” agreement with the union.
The Me Too (sometimes called a You Too) is essentially a panic button for buildings that want to opt out of a strike: On a case-by-case basis, the union agrees to send back its workers under union-friendly terms that expire when the strike does.
Afterward, rogue buildings enjoy all the protections of the collective bargaining agreement struck in their absence—but without the hassle of living through a walkout.
Not surprisingly, the Realty Advisory Board--which depends on a united front as it hammers out a new contract on behalf of building owners--is highly critical of Me Toos.
“If you have enough buildings sign these things, they become the de facto deal,” RAB president Howard Rothschild told BrickUnderground.
Rothschild also questioned whether soliciting separate agreements is fair play by the union.
“The union has a right to depend upon loyalty from its membership and so does the RAB,” said Rothschild. “We don’t encourage union members to cross picket lines, and we don’t think the union should encourage our buildings to sign separate agreements.”
Matthew Nerzig, a spokesperson for Local 32BJ, rejected that analogy. He declined to discuss the union’s planned Me Too efforts, if any.
“It’s premature to speculate on whether the union will approach individual owners, or for that matter, whether individual owners will be approaching the union,” he told BrickUnderground.
He also declined to comment on whether the union exaggerated claims of widespread defections during the last strike in 1991.
“The union claimed buildings were signing up in droves,” Rothschild told BrickUnderground about the walkout 19 years ago. But after the strike, he was able to determine that only a “handful” had signed, said Rothschild.
So what, precisely, are the consequences for a building that switches sides, beyond possibly increasing the union's leverage at the collective bargaining table?
The RAB’s strike preparation manual (downloadable here) warns that “when the strike is over and the dust has settled, defectors will not only have to face the Union on their own, but also the rest of the industry.”
In reality, punishment seems less certain.
“In the past we have not thrown people out of the RAB for signing,” Rothschild told BrickUnderground. “I don’t know what we’ll do in the future.”
BrickUnderground's 2010 Strike Coverage: