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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there