Can New York survive without doormen?

30,000 men and women who keep city's apartment blocks running prepare to strike over pay and conditions

It is a normal Monday start for Raymond Herrera, one of six doormen at The Park Gramercy, a building with about 100 flats a few steps from the only private patch of green in all of Manhattan.

He smiles and nods as the residents file out to begin their week. From one elderly gentleman he takes an envelope saying: "I'll take care of it, sir."

But the rhythms of Manhattan's better neighbourhoods as well as those in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, may be about to be severely disrupted as Herrera, 41, and about 30,000 other doormen in the city prepare for a possible strike over conditions and pay. The exception are doormen in buildings in the Bronx which have separate contracts which run until next spring.

Talks between their union, the Local 3BJ of the Service Employees International, and representatives of the city's building owners continued into the evening here yesterday with a deadline for strike action set for midnight tonight.

"It doesn't look good, from what I am hearing," says Herrera, his neatly pressed grey suit and broad peaked cap as crisp as the April air outside. He remembers the last time the doormen were in the same situation, in the late 1990s, and he was a strike captain for the neighbourhood. However, on that occasion the action was called off at the last moment. Indeed, Manhattan hasn't seen a full-blown doormans' strike for nearly 20 years.

The prospect of a walk-out is either chilling or entirely ho-hum, depending on your point of view. Most New Yorkers survive somehow without the pampering attentions of somebody downstairs, taking care of just about everything from accepting packages to making sure Pooksie doesn't miss her pet-pedicure appointment while you are at work.

But for those living in posher parts of town, the thought of their building losing its doorman, even for a day, is roughly akin to boarding an aircraft without any cabin crew. Indeed, if it goes on long enough, a strike could make First-Class living in New York positively fractious. Take out my own garbage? Perish the thought.

"A strike is not pleasant, nor should it be taken lightly," states a 45-page advisory that was being delivered to buildings across town yesterday by the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations. "During a period of work stoppage, pressures and problems develop which make building management very difficult."

Preparations for the worst scenario were in high gear up and down the golden avenues of the Upper East Side, on the freshly-greened cross-streets of the Upper West Side and here around Gramercy too. Many building owners will be forced to hire security staff to man the doors of their properties. Spoiled residents are as much concerned about the wrong people getting in as they are about the garbage finding its way out.

The average doorman makes about $40,000 (£26,000) a year, rising to about $70,000 (£45,700) with sundry benefits. Building owners are resisting calls for pay increases and are also trying to trim healthcare and pension entitlements, particularly for first-time workers. Officials last night said the two sides appeared still to be far apart.

Herrera, who has three children and lives in Queens, was a teenager when he first showed up for work at the Park Gramercy. He doesn't relish a strike and says he can understand why building owners are resisting the improvements his union are seeking. Since the last contract negotiations, property prices have slipped substantially while costs, especially for energy, have risen.

"But I don't have to tell you that we are seeing all the same things too. Doormen have to pay for oil at their homes. We need to make more money too. We have no choice, we have to make a stand," he said.

True, the residents would miss him and his colleagues, sometimes in ways that are hard to define. He hails the cabs and takes their envelopes but it is also about family and about familiarity. Herrera said: "I guess a lot of time, this is about therapy, they like to talk to us."

In this and many other buildings, getting on fine will mean mucking in, with residents taking on responsibilities they normally ignore such as making sure the the post is in the right place and the lobby plants are watered.

Mary Ann Rothman, of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums, sees a positive side. She considers that it would be an opportunity for neighbours, who seldom if ever communicate, to get to know one another. She said: "This is not the end of the world, though it may appear that way if the strike goes on."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power