The Doormen’s Union Says No to Requiring Vaccinations
Photo: Jeenah Moon / Getty Images
The other day I spoke to a doorman in New York who has worked in his apartment building for almost 30 years. He’s been wary of the COVID vaccine, he says, and has been from the start. “I’m not happy with this,” he said. “I don’t want to be vaccinated and I think no one should be forced to have something injected into their body that they are not comfortable with.” He has received emails from his union encouraging him to get the vaccine, but he is considering refusing. And, despite these emails, the union has its back.
In city buildings, there is pressure to impose vaccinations for employees of buildings facing the public such as doormen and janitors. Leni Cummins, a lawyer at Cozen O’Connor, said she has so far drafted vaccination policies for five of the 75 condominium and co-op boards she represents. She said that a vaccination mandate for door staff was an “obvious” decision for many board members. “The councils seem united enough to demand that they be vaccinated,” she said. And, of course, there are no hordes of holdouts. Ardist Brown Jr. fell ill with COVID in March 2020. He is the janitor at an Upper West Side luxury co-op, and when he recovered and returned to work, he spent the following year at fear of being re-infected. Among his colleagues in the building, he sees almost no resistance to being vaccinated and received the jab as soon as the doormen were eligible. “Most of the guys I work with want to get the shot,” he said. “Guys are cheering on other guys when they’re going to get the shot, and you can feel the urgency that they have to want to do it.” Brown, in fact, was active in the industry-wide multi-month campaign to get the state to include gatekeepers in the first priority groups.
Employers can legally require vaccination as a condition of employment. According to December directives issued by the Federal Commission for Equal Employment Opportunities, employers have the right to prohibit their employees from coming to the workplace if they refuse vaccination. (Employees can apply for exemptions based on pre-existing medical conditions or religious beliefs.) So far, however, the biggest setback against a term has not come from individual gatekeepers but from their union. Most New York doormen are members of SEIU 32BJ, which represents 35,000 home construction workers across the Northeast. Although 32BJ has encouraged its members to get vaccinated through information sessions and seminars, this goes against any mandate. “We are trying to find a way to meet the perfectly reasonable desire to vaccinate employees,” union spokeswoman Carolina Gonzalez told Curbed. “I understand why people would feel more comfortable with vaccinated staff, but that is by no means factored into the contract for these workers.”
Management companies, caught between the desires of their real estate clients and the perhaps greater desire not to upset the union, are navigating between the two. Dennis DePaola, executive vice president of Orsid Realty, said the company was still in the “pushing phase” of mandatory vaccination. “We really want to get the support of the union to impose vaccinations on employees before [enforcing them ourselves], “he said. Orsid, which is one of the largest real estate groups with unionized buildings, has implemented an immunization education program for door staff at each of its 180 properties across town. New York City, and even partnered with B’nai Jeshurun, a local synagogue, where volunteers can make appointments for employees who are unable to do so on their own. volunteers have so far helped more than 200 building workers get vaccinated.
Other buildings have considered using “incentive programs” to reward employees who get vaccinated, said Michael Wolfe, president of Midboro Management, which manages 150 buildings across town, including Brown’s. “Although the state has offered four hours of leave for employees to get vaccinated, some buildings offer extra time off, gift cards or [other] rewards for registration [to vaccination],” he said.” Some of Wolfe’s buildings are testing such programs, but he acknowledged that the strategy was divisive. “Other advice thinks, ‘Why are we paying a reward for keeping someone healthy? “”
Cummins, the real estate attorney, added that boards of directors have struggled to determine whether or not to specify which medical or religious exemptions are allowed in their policies. “Four of [the five I’ve completed so far] decided not to write them down, and in practice, if someone falls into one of those two categories, they would exempt them from their requirement, ”she said. However, while gatekeepers can use these loopholes to avoid getting vaccinated, that doesn’t prevent them from changing their duties. “Discussions have focused on moving employees who do not want to be vaccinated to a less forward-oriented position,” she said. DePaola clarified, “It would not be a disciplinary measure, but an accommodation. “We can continue to keep you employed, you will still have the same pay and similar shifts, but you will be doing a job in the back, wiping the floors or doing whatever is necessary to keep the building running, like accommodation for your objection. “
Cummins sees the most potential issues arising with respect to third-party vendors hired by residents. “Everyone wants their housekeeper, everyone wants their nanny, everyone wants their dog walker, everyone wants their particular contractor,” she said. “The boards had a hard time knowing whether or not [a vaccination mandate for contract workers] will limit the number of contractors they can get on projects, thus making the projects more expensive. She also notes that a mandate would eliminate some entrepreneurs, since not all will be vaccinated.
DePaola from Orsid Realty does not anticipate the widespread adoption of mandates on third party contractors. It highlights the screening measures already in place that can easily be changed to include proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test. “I would caution anyone who would impose vaccination mandates on groups of workers without passing similar mandates for residents of buildings,” he said. “There could be sensitive policy implications that should be strongly considered before doing so. “
For many building owners, the basis for a vaccination mandate was put in place last April, at the start of the pandemic, when councils demanded that their tenants wear masks, limited shared common spaces or closed, a compulsory registration at the concierge counters or a ban on third-party services in total.
“The precedent has already been set that boards have very broad authority and latitude,” Cummins said. “A vaccination warrant seems more invasive because it is literally invasive, but I think the whole pandemic has turned out to be [that] … When this is challenged in court, I expect you will see flexibility given to boards of directors. “
Although Brown has fought for vaccine eligibility, it is uncertain whether buildings en masse should push vaccination requirements. “I’m interested in how it would fly over, because what about the shareholders?” What about the people who live there? Not all are vaccinated yet, ”he said.
Negotiations between the buildings and the union are still well advanced, said Gonzalez of 32BJ. She added that any dismissal of unvaccinated employees before a deal is reached could be challenged in court. She admitted that a deal may not be reached until the end of the year. “Our position is that we want to protect workers ‘jobs, we want to protect workers’ health and we want to protect public health,” she said. “Giving a mandate is not necessarily going to cause people to vaccinate more. “