Over the last year and a half, the boards, managers, and residents of condos, HOAs, and other multifamily communities have relied heavily on their supers, porters, doorpeople, janitorial workers, handymen and -women, security personnel, maintenance workers, and others to keep their properties safe, clean, and operational. In the grip of the coronavirus crisis, property service workers around the country have been dealing with heavier and more intense workloads, ever-shifting regulations, supply line shortages, and sometimes verbal, even physical confrontations—all while dealing with the same fear and uncertainty that the pandemic has inflicted on all of us.
Meanwhile, boards and property managers have been adjusting to new governance procedures; incorporating the shifting regulatory guidance from multiple levels of government into their policies; dealing with pressure from residents to reopen amenities; and figuring out how to incorporate personal protective equipment (PPE), foggers, gallons of disinfectant, and COVID-related physical alterations into budgets that in many cases were already tight. Given all of these challenges—and in light of the tough, important work that they do for the communities they serve—it is more important than ever to ensure that property workers continue to feel safe, secure, and supported on the job.
In the Beginning
In the early days of the coronavirus crisis in 2020, CooperatorNews South Florida spoke to Carolina González, New York regional communications manager for 32BJ SEIU, the largest property workers union in the country. She explained that in New York, there were early agreements with the city’s Realty Advisory Board (RAB) to extend sick pay for workers, incorporate employee protection guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and allow flexible staffing to help keep workers laid off from buildings in the commercial or office sector employed and fill shortages where staff needed to quarantine or had underlying health concerns that precluded them from working certain jobs.
According to González, while most 32BJ members working in residential properties were happy to be employed at a time when millions of other Americans were losing their jobs, they still had to contend with the risks of contracting and spreading the virus on their commute to and from work—which by and large involved either public transportation or carpooling, at a time when mask wearing and social distancing was not municipally mandated. And their risks didn’t end when they got to work: as states and municipalities locked down in the spring of 2020 (and some again in the post-holiday delta variant surge earlier this year), PPE was often in short supply, residents remained confined to their buildings, and official guidance was often sparse and inconsistent, to say the least.
Although “[There was] a lot of mental and emotional strain [on] the guys” during the initial wave in 2020 and the later delta surge, González notes that the close relationship between residential building employees and the people who live in and operate their workplaces gave many workers the motivation to maintain the “continuity of service” that their jobs require. And across the nation, many boards, residents, and managers offered accommodation and appreciation to their property service workers with everything from free parking to hot meals, evening applause, and PPE donations.