By Patrick Markey
For the last five years Liam MacNiallais has made life a little easier for the residents of one building on Manhattan’s East 77th Street.
Working the door from 7:30 a.m., the Derryman deals with everything from deliveries and dry cleaners, even staving off unwelcome attorneys looking to conjure up accident lawsuits.
But residents in his Upper East Side building could be fending for themselves beginning April — at least for a few weeks.
Last week, Local 32B-J, the doorman and building workers union, voted to strike if no agreement is reached on a three-year contract between it and the representatives for building owners and managers by midnight of the April 20 deadline.
Three years ago, the doormen narrowly avoided a strike after negotiators brokered an 11th-hour deal. MacNiallais, who is a union shop steward, will be walking out if the April strike goes ahead.
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"Everybody will be coming out. I’ll have to call the building and tell them I’m pulling the doorman who is working," he said.
The 26,000-member union is calling for wage hikes for each year within the three-year contract and also improved benefits.
"A wee bit of extra money helps. But more important, we’re asking for increased health benefits, better pensions and we’re looking for more sick time and vacation time," MacNiallais said.
On the Upper East Side, MacNiallais will likely be joined by other Irishmen. Working the doors and supervising buildings was once a prominent Irish business. Today Irish immigrants still have a significant presence on the doors, and even maintain an informal network to help others move to better positions.
"If you go down Fifth, Park, Central Park West and Madison, we litter the area. Every second or third building has an Irishman working the door," said Declan Hennessy, a Cork native who is involved with the Emerald Guild Society, an informal network of 150 to 200 Irish doormen and supervisors.
More than 90 percent of the guild is Irish-born. MacNiallais got his break there, too.
"They’re not a prominent group, but they’ll help you out if they can," he said.
The guild began with four or five old hands to promote and help Irish immigrants into the doorman business. Hennessy said the guild has helped hundreds of Irish students into doorman positions and given more experienced members a step into higher-end positions when they are ready.
For Hennessy, who supervises a building on 83rd Street, the high-level positions are similar to hotel management. He works with a staff of 17 but still stresses the service end of the job.
But with new union leadership, the booming economy and high real estate prices in New York, expectations are high for a positive deal among union members.
"I personally think there is going to be a strike, because the union is under pressure to deliver," Hennessy said.