Real Estate Advisory Board Head Howard Rothschild on Keeping Union Workers Employed During Pandemic

How has the pandemic changed things?

Collective agreements – regulations on how to treat employees and the management of a building – often failed to work during the pandemic. I spent the last four months dealing with the veterans agreements that had been drafted over the past 80 years, figuring out which rules were working and which rules were not.

How much did you have to change?

We changed the apartment building agreements, the commercial building agreements, the window cleaning agreements, the security agreement. We have an agreement for entrepreneurs. I would put the number somewhere at eight or nine, but that’s really not indicative because they basically cover tens of thousands of employees.

The pandemic has made some jobs, such as elevator operator, less desirable for tenants and building owners. How did you change the contracts to allow these workers to keep their jobs?

What buildings have done in many cases is redeploy elevator operators to do other work. For example, the operator can be redeployed to perform additional cleaning. The elevator operator at this time may be superfluous, but the need for a deep cleaning may be much greater.

How do you find common ground?

Some people call the union and the leadership opposition. It’s not my way of seeing things. I look at it from the point of view that they are union members, but the members are all employees, and we have a long term relationship between owners and employees, and better than everyone solve problems.

What were the challenges of conducting arbitrations during the close?

The way an arbitrator will resolve disputed facts is to determine the credibility of witnesses. It’s hard to do in person; it is even more difficult to do by videoconference.

What standards will unions demand in their contracts in the future?

I would expect health and safety issues to be a more prevalent concern on both sides in future negotiations. We will continue to work creatively and constructively to achieve mutually satisfactory solutions.

About Jamie Collins

Jamie Collins

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