For most co-op and condo owners, the question of whether or not their building's doorman or concierge or security guard is unionized is a non-issue - one that only comes up when lengthy contract negotiations loom on the horizon. The subtle differences between union and non-union staff, though, can play a large role in how a building is run, affecting everyone who lives and works within its walls. Understanding how a union and its membership work can help your board and management maintain a smooth co-op or condo operation.
The question of which is better - union or non-union staff - is a difficult, if not impossible, one to answer. "One of the problems is that there really are no standards to compare the two," says Dick Koral of the New York Supers Club. "There are no job descriptions for supers, for example. A super's job has to be negotiated before hiring." Meaning the job is defined by each building, not by a union or its members. What that means, too, is that there is no real contextual framework within which to compare the services provided.
For John Hammell of maintenance worker's union SEIU Local 32BJ, that's a moot point. The real differences come in how well a job is done. "A major benefit [to unionized staffing] is the lack of turnover," he says. Because employees stay longer, "they do their jobs with a greater degree of care. The more secure and better paid they are, the longer they stay, and the more invested they are in their work."
SEIU Local 32BJ represents 70,000 building service employees, from cleaners to porters to superintendents and security guards, all located in the tri-state area. Sixty thousand of those members work in New York City alone. The largest building service union in the country, Local 32BJ is also the largest private sector union in New York City.
The union's expansiveness is one of its strengths, says Hammell, and that provides one of the most important benefits to co-op and condo owners. "There are political benefits to having a unionized building," he says. "[The union is] becoming a more powerful force," and is therefore able to lobby on behalf of residents, as well as its own members.