Building workers across New York City such as doorpeople (not just doormen), concierges and superintendents, who are members of union 32BJ SEIU just re-negotiated their contracts. Their past contract was set to expire on April 20 to be replaced with fewer vacation days and sick leave; union members would have to cover more of their healthcare expenses. Building workers threatened a strike that would have put almost 30,000 workers across the city on a picket line. Just hours before their contract was set to expire, the union was able to tentatively reach a negotiated agreement that would bring new benefits for workers.

Crystal Ann Johnson. Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado / Epicenter NYC

This new contract keeps healthcare 100% employer-paid and will protect workers’ sick leave and vacation days. In addition, building workers will receive a 12.6% wage increase over four years as well as a $3,000 bonus. Building workers are ecstatic that their unity and hard work paid off — and is in a string of victories for labor we have been covering. Epicenter-NYC reporter Andrea Pineda-Salgado spoke with doorperson Crystal Ann Johnson, 35, who has been a doorperson for five years at Silver Towers, a luxury apartment building in Midtown. She tells us what it is like to be a building worker in NYC and how she feels about this win. 

The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Epicenter-NYC: What is it like being a doorperson in New York City?

Johnson: It’s an exciting experience because I meet a lot of people from all over the world and the tenants become like a second family to me. A typical day at Silver Towers is mostly people coming in, welcoming people to the building when they are moving in for the first time, we do move-outs, we deal with a lot of packages, a lot of food deliveries, vendors, dealing with tenant issues. If management is not on-site, we will deal with the issues. I try to be very welcoming, and very loving. I often get comments from people saying how my smile welcomes them, even if they’re having a bad day. We remember birthdays and anniversaries to let the tenants know that we’re here for them. It’s not just a job for us. Sometimes tenants who have moved out of New York City and come back just to visit us because we’ve given them such a welcoming feeling. 

Epicenter-NYC: What was it like working as a doorperson during the height of the pandemic?

Johnson: That was a very scary experience because we had no idea what was going on or what procedures needed to be taken. We put our families at risk because we were going to work. We still tried to keep it professional to make sure our tenants knew that they were being well taken care of.  There were a lot of elderly tenants and some caught Covid and couldn’t even leave their apartment. We helped them out a lot with medication, by delivering food. The only time off I had was when I got sick with Covid myself and I went right back to work once I recovered. 

Epicenter-NYC: Can you tell me a bit about why the union was going on strike in the first place?

Johnson: When we worked during the peak of the pandemic it was very hard and we wanted to protect our wages and our healthcare and our future. So everything in that package involved our future and our family, a lot of people work paycheck to paycheck. They need to receive a certain paycheck because they need to survive, buy food and provide for their kids and their families. So it was very important to protect that package and we were asking them to give us what we deserve and what we worked so hard for. 

Epicenter-NYC: What does this tell you about the impact of building workers on New York City?

Johnson: Tenants and the buildings would have been impacted by the strike because they depend on us. They depend on us for their daily routines. When they’re not home and they have 10 packages coming in, who’s going to be there to receive that? They depend on porters, they depend on us. It shows the importance of each of our jobs. We finally saw, for once, how important we are to these people and what we mean to these people. 

Epicenter-NYC: How would your life be different if you hadn’t won the re-negotiation?

Johnson: It would have been harder because with inflation and having to pay your healthcare expenses. So it would have been harder to survive in New York, especially in a city where rent prices are very high and food prices are very high.

Epicenter-NYC: How did you feel about the victory?

Johnson: I’m excited about the victory and just knowing that my healthcare is protected and my wage is protected. The raise will make getting to work every day and being able to buy food easier. 

Epicenter-NYC: How can this victory be a model for other unions that may be advocating for similar things?

Johnson: I feel like other unions should look at this and see how unions are stronger together. We are never strong when we are divided. When we speak together, we come together as a union, when we come together as a family it makes us stronger. So I feel that other unions should take note of how strong 32BJ became when they came together and worked together for all their members. We were able to have that voice and make moves.

Epicenter-NYC: What do you want New Yorkers to know about building workers in New York City?

Johnson: I want New Yorkers to know how special each doorman, each member of the city is, and to know that we do work hard as they do. Building workers love their jobs and appreciate their jobs and they appreciate New Yorkers for all their support.

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