Thursday, April 20, 2006

(Another) Strike Looms Over Trump Island

Thinking about straws and camels' backs, I found this image from an amusing F. Scott Fitzgerald story written one afternoon for the Saturday Evening Post expressly to fund his purchase of a platinum and diamond watch.

I'm depressed just writing this, but we're on the brink of yet another ankle-grabbing extravaganza. Yes, I know about people with real and desperate problems, got it, but it'll stink if and when it happens. And some of the people suffering most will be those urbanites with graver issues who need the extensive assistance that a service-heavy city like this seems to promise.

Midnight tonight- update- moved to Friday, if no agreement can be reached with the Real Estate Advisory Board (RAB) who negotiates for the property owners, local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union will go on strike. This affects over 25,000 employees like doormen, handymen, and porters in 3,500 buildings (like mine). Be sure and catch the tone of some of the coverage which implies that employing someone for a service they're willing to provide is inherently demeaning- a premise to which I don't agree, not feeling myself particularly posh or superior- and that most of us are incapable of taking out our own garbage without a guidebook.

NY1 coverage
The Guardian- In its typically nuanced coverage, opines we're all rich and rude who have doormen and that we principally value them as a sign of our status above the little people. Feh. A lot of people living here have roomates and keep strange hours or demanding schedules that make the security and access of such a building desirable. This strike is expected to affect at least a million New Yorkers who live and work in such buildings. The thousands of buildings affected are throughout every borough in NYC, except for the Bronx under a contract through 2008. Obviously, they're not all on Park Avenue no matter how juicy that theme appears to journalists.
The New York Times covers this as a triennial rite of spring. Lovely. Can't we just feed a virgin to a sea monster and be done already?
Columbia Spectator
Christian Science Monitor
New York Daily News

32BJ's workers are not lavishly compensated, Christmas bonuses aside, and their average salaries are at least twenty grand less per year than the transit workers who struck over the holidays. The incremental raises to deal with the cost of living are important for people trying to live on working-class paychecks in a pricey region of the country. I also understand not wanting to pay a penny for healthcare, however, everyone else does at least a little, and people who don't pay for any portion of their healthcare tend to be unselective consumers. The RAB's proposed solution is to let the insurance stay free and to freeze wage increases to balance their own rises in heating costs and property taxes. Since those higher taxes are a result of the much higher valuations in this booming market which also has a low number of vacant units and rising rents, I'm not exactly gnashing my teeth for the owners on this one.

Oh, you may say, no doorman for the day- go cry into your caviar. But the fact is many people in Manhattan who live in large buildings with doormen are pretty normal, non-Helmsley folk. And to live here in the interdependent, high-density hive, you often become less self-sufficient in some ways because maintaining independence is more expensive than using the other systems in place to compensate.

As per the sheaf of instructions and prohibitions slid beneath our door, during a strike, my building will cover its liabilities for security by installing a guard at the front desk. Easy job, because the only people admitted will be those with tenant cards matching their picture ID and those personally escorted from the lobby by a verified resident. What's the problem?

For one thing, most people who have dog walkers and part-time cleaning services do so because they're not home during the day. Who will let those people in? Maybe neighbors, maybe the two out-of-work actors in my building offering to walk all the local dogs. Every rainfall provides someone a windfall. Wrapped dry cleaning orders typically get returned to a rack downstairs, free delivery being part of the service you pay exorbitant prices to get. That will also have to be accepted by a person at home who likely won't be. (Ooooh, don't want to pick up you own dry cleaning, you say, how chi-chi). Actually, many people don't get home until after the dry cleaners close, so this arrangement allows them to get their laundry at all. Sure, it can be addressed by an extra trip to the dry cleaners and back home in the morning rather than on the way to work as usual. All of it can be addressed, but it would never have been set up this way in the first place if you were planning on doing your own thing your own way.

Another resident was complaining because his son who visits him frequently isn't a full-time resident and couldn't get a card, and so will not be allowed to let himself in to his father's apartment. The man was irate, floored that he was not ultimately in charge of who was allowed into his home. Welcome to life under seige and the protectionism of management companies who routinely treat tenants like we're problematic serfs.

Here's another one. I can't afford a car here, because the parking and insurance are odious. So, I get more stuff sent, since I can't get to the stores where I'd shop if I could travel freely with a car to lug bargains home. Have I ever told you how difficult it was at first to find Purina, not some organic, holistic, feng shui, boutique dog food? However, UPS says its Teamsters won't cross the picket lines, so no deliveries. Maybe Fedex, too. Whether medical supplies or a new piano bench, you can't have it. Lots of people order baby supplies by mail, because the mark up in NYC retail is hideous. Lots of yucky fannies to come. The local drug emporiums must be psyched!

And speaking of garbage, the Dept. of Sanitation doesn't want to cross the lines either, so we may or may not be able to get garbage picked up. We're informed that without regular porter service, we ought to reserve bagged garbage and recyclables in our tiny apartments. We're advised to minimize entertaining under the circumstances (really?!) and reduce garbage production, but I'm simply thinking of giving over my bedroom closet to it.

No one will clean the common areas, so sanitizing the exercise equipment falls to users- how comforting. We'll have to swab the laundry room and hallways. Tenants are also encouraged to volunteer for turns at the front desk. But it's my home, you say. But it doesn't feel like it. In living here, I don't control much or get to make decisions. They inform me how things will run and I have to go along or get out. In return, there is constant disruption, disrepair, ongoing construction, and service failures of power and water and whatever else can fail complicated by similar crises citywide about once a season. AND THAT'S LIVING IN A NICE PLACE! What help I provide will be for the benefit of my neighbors, not the convenience of the management company.

When I had a mortgage on a bigger place than this for less than half of what's paid in rent here, I didn't have to labor at the co-op. But in NYC, you pay through the nose for the seeming ineptitude of any organization in this city so famous for wheeling-and-dealing to get any agreement signed before a crash-and-burn.


April said...

You guys need to move back to the land of twice as big for half the price.

Just curious, still, but what in Jah's name do doormen do?

Good luck!

tom l said...

I've only seen doormen in Manhattan. Is there anywhere else in America that has this?