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New York faces life without doormen, strike looms

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, Apr 21 (Reuters) New York doormen who do everything from calling elevators to zipping up evening gowns for ladies in need may be going on strike, leaving hundreds of thousands of well-heeled New Yorkers to fend for themselves.

Doormen are as quintessentially New York as yellow taxis or the Statue of Liberty, dressed in their caps and stylish uniforms, offering convenience and a dash of style to those living in Manhattan's finest buildings.

But with union leaders considering rejecting a contract proposal offered by building owners today morning, as many as 1 million New Yorkers could be taking out their own trash, sorting their mail and hailing their own taxis.

With the current contract set to expire at midnight yesterday, both sides said they remain far apart.

''Building owners are insisting on a wage freeze and calling on workers to finance their own healthcare,'' said Matthew Nerzig, spokesman for Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union.

A strike would see 28,000 doormen and apartment workers who staff 3,500 New York residences, mainly in Manhattan, walk off the job.

''There are still substantial differences on major issues,'' said Jim Grossman spokesperson for Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, which represents apartment owners.

A strike would leave apartment owners and residents to perform tasks performed by their doormen -- everything from pushing elevator buttons, moving furniture and taking in deliveries.

Some buildings have developed contingency plans in case the strike happens -- hiring security workers, printing name tags for residents and organizing a rotation of people to take the building's trash to the curb and sort the mail.

''Sometimes you watch the kids, make sure they get off the bus all right. Some buildings walk the dogs,'' said Peter Garvey, who has been working as a doorman at a posh building along Central Park for 20 years. ''People call to zip up a dress or things like that if they are in rush, putting up buttons when they get their nails done.'' Help with everyday tasks and even emergency assistance can mean close ties, and some doormen say they become like extended members of the family.

''I actually pulled someone off a toilet, she was very old, she couldn't stand up, she was handicapped,'' said a doorman on Manhattan's Upper West Side who called himself Mr. Taurres.

Doormen earn an average of around 37,000 dollars a year, according to Nerzig. But the special services they perform can mean tips of several hundred dollars from each family in the building at Christmas.

For Charles Fels, a 63-year-old New Yorker who lives in a building with a doorman, said doormen are the ''friendly face of the neighborhood.'' ''I know something of the human struggles of the doormen who work in this building, about the children they have lost, something about the illnesses they have experienced,'' Fels said in front of his Upper West Side building. ''It seems to me to be more than just a business relationship.'' REUTERS PR BD0939

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