While most everyone frets over how much to tip the building staff during the holiday season, residents of the prewar rental at 698 West End Avenue, near 94th Street, are hoping to give one specific gift to their doormen: a chair. Last month, the building’s management company decreed that the doormen, who also operate the elevators, can’t sit down on the job, and the building’s tenants have rallied behind their staff. “It’ll be the best present they can give us,” says one staff member who mans the lift, sounding as if it were a major bonus and not a simple lobby seat.
Sources say l’affaire chair began in early November, when Heller Realty unveiled new rules for the operators, which include a restrictive new clock-in policy and a prohibition on eating or drinking—even coffee!—while on duty. And then there’s the seat, newly banned for the entire eight-hour shift. “We find these actions to be unjustifiably harsh and entirely unprofessional as they only cause undue fatigue to the staff and create unnecessary discomfort to their mental and physical well-being,” reads a petition that has circulated among residents. “We respectfully and fervently request that Management promptly return the elevator operator chair to the lobby desk and, at a minimum, allow the elevator operators permission to sit and rest at the lobby desk during working hours when they are not otherwise engaged in operating the elevator.” (Heller Realty did not return calls requesting comment on this story.) Anthony Razzano, the resident spearheading the effort, says every tenant who has seen the petition—85 percent of the 90-unit building—has signed. “[We] are behind them 100 percent,” he says. “Why would they do that with a staff that’s been so brilliant?”
Why indeed. Rumors are circulating that the chair removal may be a sign of tension left over from protracted contract negotiations that ended in October. According to a spokesperson for SEIU 32BJ, the union for elevator operators and doormen, no formal grievance has been filed about the chair, but they are aware of the situation. Providing a place to sit is “regrettably not protected by the contract,” he wrote in an e-mail.
A building staff member says he was told that “with the chair we weren’t providing proper response to tenants’ needs.” One tech executive who lives in the building thinks making [the staff’s] life and working situation “less comfortable” could actually affect their performance. “Our concern is more that they’re provided the basic amenities and common decency to have a comfortable working environment.” Another resident, who gave his name only as Mitchell, says the building presents itself as “white glove,” yet having elevator and lobby attendants standing wearily all day doesn’t spell luxury to him. “To take away the chair seems completely at odds with the image they like to portray,” he says. The residents planned to submit their petition to management last Friday. The chair, for its part, declined to comment.