While thousands of doormen and other apartment building workers prepare to rally on the Upper East Side today, BrickUnderground thought it might be useful to go back to the future: Specifically, will 2010 turn out to be another 1991, the year of the last NYC doorman strike?
Back then, the union ordered its workers off the job for nearly two weeks despite a recession.
But that downturn was substantially less severe than the one from which we are emerging now.
“Members of the union appreciate the fact that they’ve kept their jobs during the past two years when unemployment went into the double digits, and they don’t get paid walking the picket line,” says a source close to negotiations in 1991 and now. “So I think the union will negotiate long and hard.”
Another important difference has to do with the top brass at the collective bargaining table.
Gus Bevona, the union president during the last walkout, was more “flamboyant,” says a source involved in both negotiations.
"Bevona was infamous for his huge salary ($450,000), the sumptuous penthouse he built for himself atop his high-priced new headquarters on lower Sixth Avenue, and the intensely secretive sovereignty with which he ruled the union," wrote the Village Voice in 2001, two years after the Local 32BJ replaced Bevona with its current president, Mike Fishman.
In contrast to Bevona, says our source, Fishman is "much more dedicated to helping people. He is much more cerebral and firmly and fervently committed to the good that unions can do for people who are relatively poor.”
While that devotion might seem to support drawing a hard line, this observer suggested it makes Fishman more sympathetic to the hardships a strike inflicts on working class families.
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Facing off against Fishman, the Realty Advisory Board's Howard Rothschild was appointed president only a few months ago, following the death of his predecessor from cancer last fall.
Some speculate that the last thing Rothschild wants in his first year of office is a strike.
Indeed, according to the head of a major property management firm, the only group with the stomach for a walkout is "the one controlling this whole process"--the city's major landlords.
“Rents are down 15 percent from a year ago so they’re looking to take it back from the little guy,” this executive told BrickUnderground, referring to the RAB’s proposals to make workers pay for a portion of their healthcare benefits and cut back on sick days, among other things. “Taking it out on the little guy is mean-spirited.”
So is forcing a strike on renters who pay among the highest rents in the nation.
Bottom line? Don't kiss your Fresh Direct goodbye just yet.
BrickUnderground 2010 Strike Coverage