It wasn’t long after Michael Greene was hired as a doorman at a high-end Brooklyn building that he knew something wasn’t right.
“I looked at the nationwide hourly rate of doormen and concierges, and I felt that it was very unusual that we would be making $9 or $11 an hour,” said Greene, who lives in Brooklyn with his wife and 6-year-old twin daughters. “I just felt deep down that there was something wrong with it, given that we were responsible for so many things, and that we’re the eyes and ears of the building.”
Two years ago, a representative of 32BJ came to Michael’s building to talk with workers there about joining the union. He told the workers there that they were being paid well below the industry standard and should have affordable health coverage as well. But when the workers went to management with the information, they got an earful.
“They said if someone from the union shows up again, we shouldn’t talk with him and he shouldn’t be let back in the building,” Greene said. “Basically it was a scare tactic. We were told that if we even talked to them that our jobs could be at risk, and again I started feeling, there’s really something wrong with this.”
The scare tactic worked, but only temporarily. Last year, 32BJ organizers returned and informed workers that the building was getting big tax subsidies, known as 421a, and because of the subsidies the law said the workers had to be paid what the majority of other doormen in New York City were making. This time, the workers decided they were ready to take a stand.
“We got a petition signed by residents of the building and for me it was a lot of fun to prove a point and to have a voice with the managers of the building,” said Greene. “We had so much support from the residents that live there.”
More than 90% of the 300 tenants signed the petition in favor of the workers’ right to organize.
“There was a lot of stalling from the management company, Planned Companies, and we understand that they are notorious for avoiding any type of union talks,” Greene said, “ but we were able to overcome that and as of July 1 we officially became union.”
Workers at the building will be making more than $21 an hour with full health care, dental and retirement benefits.
“It had been about 4 years since my wife, myself or my kids had seen a dentist because I just couldn’t afford it,” said Greene.
In addition to seeing the dentist, Greene said that he bought a family membership at the local YMCA and the girls signed up for gymnastics and swimming lessons there.
This year’s back-to-school shopping was also completely different.
“I also could afford two very nice pink and purple Hello Kitty backpacks – those are their favorite colors,” said the proud dad. “We can’t go on vacation quite yet, but we are planning next year to take my girls to Disney World.”
Greene also said having a union makes him feel better about going to work.
“Now there’s the opportunity for employees who never have been taken seriously by management — people who run these multi- million dollar building – to have a voice,” Greene said. “They have to be aware that the people who work for them are not just statistics, but we are people. The union has allowed us to show that and use our voices.”