A uniformed bouncer is as ubiquitous in New York City as a yellow cab driver.
Door openers have been around for around 162 years and while some see them as antiquated status symbols for luxury homes, for renters they are multi-layered necessities of everyday life.
But while there are over 27,000 bouncers in New York, little is known about the profession. And for them, that’s the point.
“I like to say that as a bouncer you’re part of the facility,” Jan Eggers, a bouncer on the Upper East Side, told Inequality.org during April’s union strikes. “Our job is to fit in and make our tenants’ lives easier, and that requires certain skills.”
On paper, the role sounds deceptively simple: few prerequisites, no formal training, no college degree required. But it’s a position that’s almost impossible to get because most people who have the job hold it for decades.
Eggers, for example, has been working for 25 years and has seen tenants grow while working as a porter and elevator operator.
“What I’ve really enjoyed is watching little kids — since I started — grow into adults with families of their own who are now visiting their parents,” he told In The Know.
It really is a man’s job; While no experience is required for the role, a personality that matches the building’s requirements is a must. To even know if there is an opening in a building, you usually have to know someone inside.
Jose Soto, another bouncer on the Upper East Side, told In The Know he’s been here for 24 years because of the connections he’s forged with the building’s residents.
“It feels really good to know that I helped them,” Soto explained. During Soto’s interview, a tenant happened to pass by and handed him an apple, just like that. “Some people make me feel like part of their family.”
Ted Martinez, 30, is one of the rare cases to have found an open bouncer position in recent years. Martinez has been a bouncer for four years, starting as a doorman and working at the Waterside Plaza Apartments in Manhattan. He said he’s learned a lot from his tenants and has recently become fascinated with neurology after meeting a neurologist in the building, who encouraged Martinez to take up meditation when things got stressful during the pandemic.
“Sometimes I feel like a part-time therapist,” Martinez said. “It’s part of the job, but mostly it’s good conversations.”
Soto agreed to the therapy mood. This position isn’t just about taking packages or cleaning the lobby (although, as Eggers noted, it’s busy).
“Sometimes we feel like a therapist, sometimes like a psychologist, sometimes like a doctor,” Soto added.
A great appeal of the position is that it is unionized. The union last went on strike in 1991 – although there have been some close altercations since then, including one in early 2022. For decades, the position has always been overwhelmingly held by immigrants, who find the job security and protection the union is too good to accept waive.
“The union is important to me because they stand behind us when we have problems,” Soto said. “We fight and stand up for each other, that makes us strong and ultimately a good job.”
Housing Service employees have 100% employer-paid health care, paid vacation in addition to 10 sick days per year, and access to free legal representation for immigration and family law cases. The average salary is around $40,000. The union represents 32,000 porters, doormen, janitors, concierges and handymen who work in and maintain over 3,000 buildings throughout New York City.
“The union also helped me get my kids through school,” Soto added. “My kids graduated from Cornell University, Columbia University, and Lehman College.”
Of the 27,000 bouncers in New York City, 753 are women, according to the union’s latest figures. Inclusion of women has been slow, especially in an already diverse industry, as the number of female bouncers has increased by around 400 employees since then New York Times 2012 report.
“I wish there were more women,” said bouncer Marilyn Rivera The Atlantic in 2016. At the time, Rivera had worked at the Windsor Court Towers in Manhattan for 24 years. “It’s a great job for a lot of women, especially if you’re a social person. I’m 4’11” and I can handle that.”
Inside the mysterious lives of New York City doormen: ‘Our job is to blend in’ featured first on In The Know.
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