While residents of condos, co-ops, and HOAs do their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by staying in their homes as much as they can, they rely on the supers, porters, valets, doorpeople, janitorial workers, handymen and -women, security personnel, managerial staff, maintenance workers, and others to leave their homes to keep these multifamily communities safe, clean, and operational.
But over these last six months, as the world has been in the grips of the coronavirus crisis, property service workers around the country have been dealing with heavier and more intense workloads, ever-shifting regulations, and supply-line shortages making it harder to carry out their essential duties—all while dealing with the same fear and uncertainty that this virus and its outcomes have 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 plexiglass partitions 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 staff continue to feel safe, secure, and supported.
In the Beginning
At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, The New Jersey Cooperator 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 Realty Advisory Board (RAB) to extend sick pay for workers, incorporate guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for employee protection, and allow flexible staffing in order to employ workers laid off from buildings in the commercial or office sector, or to fill shortages where staff needed to quarantine after exposure to or contraction of the virus, or if they had underlying health concerns and were therefore staying home or isolated.
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 had not become municipally mandated. And their risks didn’t end when they got to work: as states and municipalities locked down in the spring, PPE was in woefully short supply, residents who were normally at work or school were now confined to the buildings, and official guidance was sparse and inconsistent, to say the least.