Staff taking vacation can disrupt building services, but replacements can be expensive.
A problem that we continue to face is staffing our buildings during summer vacation, especially in buildings where there are a large number of union employees. All union employees are afforded the benefit of paid vacation, some for up to four or five weeks at a time. You don’t want to put just anybody in there to run your front door, or as a relief handyman or porter. By contract, the union allows buildings to hire relief employees and pay them 60 percent of the prevailing wage, although this seldom happens. What does happen quite often is overlapping and swapping of schedules and shifts, resulting in overtime and additional payroll expense to the building when you fail to hire a true “relief” worker. When you have a building with 10-plus employees, it can become costly.
As a member of the Five Borough Real Estate Managers Social Club, I was made aware of a summer program the club had initiated. It began recruiting college-bound students for summer relief positions. For instance, Fordham Prep, a high school in the Bronx, has participated by providing 17-year-olds who were looking for summer work and had an interest in the real estate business or saw business management as an opportunity to work. These students wanted to see how a building is run from the inside. We would staff the building with these young guys. We did background checks and offered some training, and we found that these younger guys were eager to learn. A lot of our buildings now have computers at the front desk, which some of the older generation employees shy away from. But these kids have a lot of knowledge of technology. It’s really going well. I knew it would be a good fit because I myself worked as a summer relief employee when I was that age.
The hardest part was convincing some of the boards to try something new. We had to take them out of their comfort zones. The results have been fantastic. Some of these students ended up getting full-time jobs in our buildings, while others have gone on to work in the industry. And the boards were pleased when we were able to save the 40 percent on payroll costs that the union contract allows for. We’re helping develop the next generation of service employees.