The RAB negotiates collective bargaining agreements on behalf of owners and operators of real property with unions that represent their maintenance and operating employees. We also advise and represent members in the administration of their collective bargaining agreements and in matters concerning personnel and human resources.
From its inception, the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, Inc. (RAB) has taken the position that the representation of employers is best accomplished by working cooperatively with building workers and their legal representatives.
New York City in the 1930’s was plagued with labor disputes in the Building Service Industry. On November 1, 1934, members of union Local 32B went on strike thereby shutting down elevator service to New York’s skyscrapers. The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), along with New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, found it necessary to step in for fear of continued violence. REBNY and Mayor LaGuardia promoted the resolution of labor disputes through arbitration, and an agreement was successfully reached on November 21, 1934 and the RAB was organized in order to handle similar labor matters in the future.
The initial agreements reached however, were set to expire in the early months of 1936, and those in the industry knew there would be similar struggles ahead. The strikes of 1934, and the resulting agreements, necessitated a permanent, independent, membership organization to deal with future labor-relations problems, and the RAB therefore became a permanent fixture in the building service industry.
The next few years saw multiple ups and downs in labor relations in the building service industry, especially where agreements were up for renegotiation in 1939, but none so major as the two-week strike in March of 1936.
Meanwhile, in 1941, the RAB was also involved in a federal case with serious implications for real estate owners. In Fleming v. Arsenal Building Corporation, Arsenal Building Corporation (“Arsenal”) owned a loft building in New York City wherein Arsenal rented the majority of the space to clothing manufacturers who were engaged in interstate commerce. Plaintiff Philip B. Fleming, Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division, United States Department of Labor, initiated an action against Arsenal for not paying the building service employees overtime pay as per §7(a) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.
At the same time, the RAB was in the process of renegotiating a new contract with the unions. Representatives of the union agreed with the RAB to develop a formula was to determine hourly wages and the necessary overtime pay.
In 1945, maintenance employees initiated suit against their employer, 149 Madison Avenue Corporation, for unpaid overtime wages. Through the appeal process, it was held that although the wage formula structure did not adequately satisfy overtime compensatory requirements of the Fair Labor’s standard act, the agreement with the Union was entered into in good faith, and that the RAB satisfied the court in showing they did not willfully enter into an agreement in violation of the Act. This excused RAB members from any liability for payment of overtime wages mistakenly withheld pursuant to the aforementioned agreement reached with the union.
In the ensuing years, the RAB became a pioneer in the implementation of benefit funds for building service in employees. In 1951, the RAB was involved in the establishment “of the first joint employer-union welfare fund in th[e] industry.” It provided hospitalization, surgical and group life benefits to approximately 25,000 employees. In 1957, agreements reached with commercial building owners provided for the first pension plan instituted in the industry, and was finally approved and instituted in 1959. By early November 1960, the pension fund provided over 1,000 employees with retirement benefits.
By 1964, the RAB faced challenges with regards to rising labor costs in the face of rent control laws. After appeals to the New York City Council and the Mayor to amend rent control laws proved to be futile, certain co-ops experienced union strikes which led to the highest settlement ever negotiated by the union. However, a majority of the rent controlled buildings refused to assent to the agreement and another strike was called by Local 32B members. This lasted 9 days before New York City finally agreed to amend rent control laws – the first time the city had done so in 24 years.
By 1969, negotiations got slightly easier, and for the first time in the Boards history, agreements were reached with Locals 32B and 32J, SEIU, and AFL-CIO before the expiration dates of their current agreements. This also marked the first time female cleaners received the same wage increases as other building service employees.
The RAB increased its territorial jurisdiction with the approval of a new constitution in July of 1971. It could now accept membership for buildings throughout all of New York City.
Also in 1976 came the settlement of a major lawsuit involving the RAB. Starting in the summer of 1975, members of local 32J initiated suit against RAB member buildings for sexual gender discrimination in that they weren’t receiving equal pay to their male peers in Local 32B. The RAB was able to help negotiate a settlement for member buildings wherein each plaintiff would receive $100 in “back pay” and by October of 1975 agreements would provide for equal pay for female members of Local 32J.
In 1978 the RAB became a multi-employer association. This eliminated the need for ratification by union membership in order for negotiated agreements to become binding on RAB members. That same year the RAB, along with other partners established of the Office of the Contract Arbitrator where future arbitrations between the parties would be held.
In 1991, Local 32BJ went on strike in 3000 apartment buildings. This strike lasted twelve days.
The RAB experienced its next major commercial building strike in 1996. It was the longest strike in the industry in the past 50 years, and lasted for 31 days, starting from January 4 and lasting until February 5. This was the longest strike for any industry in 1996 in terms of lost worker hours. However, the RAB was able to help its members maintain most of their essential building operations, keeping actual service disruptions to a minimum and, in addition, to negotiate a fair and acceptable contract settlement.
In 2000, the RAB’s residential agreements implemented a host of new programs including a 401(k) supplemental retirement savings program.
The industry suffered greatly in the attacks of September 11, 2001. 28 union members lost their lives in the tragedy, and 1,740 were left jobless. To cope, the parties agreed on the suspension of “bumping rights” until February of 2002, created a preferential hiring list for employees displaced as a result of the attacks, provided for the continuation of health benefits for families of the deceased as well as displaced workers, and supplemental unemployment benefits to those awaiting new positions.
In 2006 the RAB was involved in an arbitration that would soon go all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, Pyett v. The Pennsylvania Building Corp. For years, the RAB worked towards the goal of having discrimination complaints resolved through grievance and arbitration rather than through the judicial system. In 1998 it modified clauses in collective bargaining agreements to provide for the arbitration of such complaints, and also appeared as an Amicus in cases involving the “arbitrability” of discrimination complaints. In 2009 the Supreme Court held that a clear and unmistakable provision of a CBA requiring arbitration of ADEA claims is enforceable.
Also in 2008, the RAB further expanded its reach and acted in an advisory capacity in negotiations held in Washington D.C., Virginia, and Maryland. In December of 2009, Howard Rothschild was appointed President of the RAB after the sudden passing of then-President James Berg. Rothschild continues to serve as President today.
A few years later New York City and the building service industry suffered another major loss as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Losses to health, supplemental unemployment, and legal fund benefits totaled to about $1,030,000.00. The RAB again worked to extend benefits to affected employees, and avoided bumping issues in commercial buildings.
Currently the RAB sits on multiple committees and serves as a representative of the building service industry. To date, the RAB has 4,077 Commercial and Residential Building members as well as building maintenance contractor members who employ more than 20,000 members of Local 32BJ. The RAB continues to negotiate collective bargaining agreements on behalf of building owners who employ the major unions in the building service industry, which include SEIU, Local 32BJ, Local 94, IUOE, and a Craft Groups.
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