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A union representing doormen and a building owners' association began accelerated contract negotiations Thursday to try to avert a strike that could compel tenants at the city's most privileged apartment buildings to take out their own trash and staff their own lobbies.
The union, which represents thousands of apartment workers -- including doormen, concierges, porters and superintendents -- is threatening to call a strike by 12:01 a.m. April 21 if a new contract isn't forged by then.
Bargaining committees for the union and the industry association representing building owners and managers met at the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan to begin nearly round-the-clock contract negotiations. The sides are battling over wages and benefits, including health care, sick days and overtime rules.
Matt Nerzig, a spokesman for Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, said the two sides were still "far apart" on a new contract.
"Initial proposals from the real estate industry fall short of what working families need to make ends meet in one of the most expensive cities in the world," Nerzig said in an e-mailed statement. "Locking workers into a recession contract for the next several years when the economy and the industry are rebounding is not an option."
Howard Rothschild, the president of the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, said the association was "committed to negotiating continually -- around the clock, if necessary -- to reach an agreement before midnight Tuesday."
The last time apartment workers walked out in 1991, the strike lasted nearly two weeks.
Also on Thursday, the city's public advocate, Bill de Blasio, announced a Web site pooling online resources for tenants who could be affected by a citywide strike of apartment building workers.
In recent days, the RAB has been circulating guidelines to assist owners and agents on how to prepare buildings and tenants for a possible strike.
The booklet, available online from the RAB Web site, covers manual and freight elevators, security, arranging for fuel delivery, services for the elderly and the sick and, of course, trash.
"Garbage collection is a major problem during a strike," the manual warns. "Often, sanitation employees refuse to cross a picket line to pick up garbage unless the Board of Health has declared a health emergency for the building."