New York doormen avert strike

NEW YORK – The city’s doormen reached a tentative agreement with building owners early today, avoiding a walkout that could have forced tens of thousands of apartment dwellers to take out their own trash and carry their own groceries.

Health care and wages had been two major issues in the negotiations, which were extended beyond a 12:01 a.m. deadline today. Under the deal, which must be ratified by union members, the workers will not have to make health care premium contributions, union bosses said.

Union President Mike Fishman expressed satisfaction with the deal.

“We’ve achieved what we wanted to achieve,” he said. “We’ve made compromises, but we think it’s a good agreement for all of us.”

Fishman said it would take at least three weeks for the contract to be voted on by union members.

The 3,000 buildings, most of them in Manhattan, had been making plans to deal with a strike. They were hiring security personnel and issuing identification tags to residents, who agreed to pitch in by working garbage, mail and cleaning duty.

The threat of a strike had come from a union that represents 28,000 doormen, porters, elevator operators and superintendents.

Doorman Arthur “Butch” Souffront, 40, who works at an Upper West Side building where a one-bedroom apartment can rent for about $3,500 a month, said he has to moonlight as a locksmith to support his wife and two girls.

“The rents they’re getting today and they can’t help us?” he said.

The last doorman strike in New York City was in 1991, when the union walked off the job for 12 days.

Complaining of rising energy and health care costs, the building owners, represented by the Realty Advisory Board, proposed a wage freeze for the first year of the three-year contract. They also proposed contributions for health insurance of about $1,400 a year per worker, and a switch to 401(k) plans from traditional pensions.

The Service Employees International Union scoffed at the owners’ economic concerns, pointing to a booming New York real estate market. The workers sought a 3.5 percent to 4 percent cost-of-living increase and no health insurance contribution.

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