THE DOORMAN? WELL, YOU'RE HALF RIGHT; WOMEN BREAK A NEW YORK
BARRIER, CARRYING BAGS AND HAILING CABS
The New York Times, March 6, 2003
A few months ago Felicia Estrada was at her usual post at the door
of 100 Haven Avenue in Washington Heights when a courier walked up.
"Where's the doorman?" he said.
Ms. Estrada, wearing her navy blue uniform with the building address
stenciled on it, crossed her arms. "Look at me," she said.
The courier stared back, incredulous. "You're the doorman?"
It was hard to blame him. As long as there have been apartment
buildings in New York, there have been doormen. Standing like
sentries beneath the awnings all along the Upper East Side and
beyond, their stiff caps and lettered overcoats are as much a part
of the city's iconography as the Chrysler Building or the Brooklyn
And they are still almost all men. Even as the military, the police,
and firehouses have opened their gates to women, the job at the door
stubbornly resists change. It does not seem to matter that the work
-- with decent wages and benefits and hefty tips at Christmas --
requires few special skills beyond the ability to open doors and
The exact number of doorwomen in New York City is a mystery. John
Hamill, a spokesman for Local 32B-32J of the Service Employees
International Union, puts the figure at about 100 out of 3,000
doorpeople in the city. But most of those are actually concierges,
who work at a desk inside buildings, not at the door, he said. He
was able to identify only three true doorwomen.
There are, in fact, so few that all four doorwomen interviewed for
this article believed that they were the only one.
People in the industry talk about them like ghosts. Everyone knows
someone else who has seen a doorwoman, and some say they don't
really exist. Confronted with the real thing, passers-by will often
do a double take.
Ms. Estrada, 41, seems to take a special pride in confounding
people's expectations. She took a pay cut when she left her job as a
medical billing agent at a Manhattan hospital to become a doorwoman
seven years ago, and has not regretted it for a minute, she said.
"Some people give me attitude," Ms. Estrada said. "But most people
Blanca Alonzo has been working the door at 514 West End Avenue for
almost 10 years, but people still stop in the street and stare at
"They say, 'Oh my God -- bless you!' " she said. "They can't believe
it's a woman."
The doorwomen say they have struggled with skepticism from their
male colleagues. You need a man's strength to help tenants with
heavy bags and ward off intruders, the men say. And having a woman
at the door might offend the tenants' sense of decorum.
"Men are supposed to open doors for women, not the other way
around," said Jose Peraza, a veteran Upper East Side doorman at 225
East 95th Street.
Doorwomen laugh those concerns off. "They think women are too
delicate," Ms. Alonzo said. "But I shovel snow, I carry three bags
in each hand, I do everything. It's not a problem."
As for security, Ms. Estrada keeps a baseball bat in the lobby just
in case. "Anybody that messes with me is going to get hit with the
bat," she said.
For the record, none of the doormen or women interviewed for this
article had ever had a problem with intruders. Once a man was riding
a bicycle in the driveway outside her building and behaving in a
menacing way, Ms. Estrada said. She shooed him away.
The real reason women do not man the door, according to many in the
industry, is that the jobs are passed on almost exclusively through
personal connections. That tends to perpetuate the status quo.
"These are very good jobs that guys hang on to," said Jim Grossman,
a spokesman for the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, which
negotiates labor contracts on behalf of the buildings and their
managing agents. "They don't retire young. And change, which
generally comes slow in regard to hiring women, comes even slower in
this case on account of that."
The doorwomen confirmed that connections mean everything in their
business. Elizabeth Fonseca, who works the door at 1225 Park Avenue
at 95th Street, is the daughter of the building's former
superintendent, and she spent her early years living there. Ms.
Estrada was a friend of the super at her building. Other doorwomen
have similar stories.
"If you don't know someone or are not family related, you're not
going to get this job," said Elizabeth Floody, who has been working
the door for two months at 107 West 86th Street, between Columbus
and Amsterdam Avenues.
But some say sexism in the industry is more than just a matter of
buddies hiring buddies. Panathy Hill, a former correctional officer,
filed a lawsuit nine years ago against a number of Upper East Side
buildings and their management company, Douglas Elliman-Gibbons &
Ives, saying the company told her it hired only men. Ms. Hill, who
is black, has also accused the buildings and the firm of
discriminating against her because of her race. (There are few black
doormen on the Upper East Side, according to people in the industry,
where Christmas tips for doormen tend to be the highest.)
According to court records filed in the case, not one of the 500
doormen working in buildings managed by Douglas Elliman was a woman.
Ms. Hill's case is now in settlement negotiations and, through her
lawyer, Madeline Lee Bryer, she declined to comment.
It is hard to say whether Ms. Hill's case, which was Topic A among
Upper East Side doormen a few years ago, will push the industry to
start hiring more women. Some doorwomen said they had not heard of
it. But they all agreed that women would start lining up for the job
if they knew what it was like.
"Most women don't even think of it as something they'd like to do,"
Ms. Estrada said. "For me it was kind of a step down. But I wouldn't
leave this for my old job. I'm so comfortable here."
It is true that the opportunities are limited. After 30 months,
doorpeople with Local 32B-32J reach their maximum salary of $16.56
an hour, Mr. Hamill said, just over $33,000 a year. Christmas tips
can add another $5,000 or more to that. But the health benefits and
pension are good, and there is plenty of job security, he added.
More important, some doorwomen said, is the total absence of stress,
and the feeling of warmth and camaraderie in their buildings.
"This job is a second home for me and my family," Ms. Alonzo said.
An immigrant from Ecuador, Ms. Alonzo learned English on the job
with help from the building's residents. She has seen the residents'
children grow up, and she is trusted by the adults to watch them,
walk the tenants' dogs, park cars and water plants. Both of her own
adult children have been baby sitters for children in the building,
Ms. Alonzo said.
The only career disadvantage Ms. Estrada could point to was the
clothing. Those stiff suits and caps aren't ideal for a woman.
"Some women are turned off by the uniforms," Ms. Estrada said. "But
you can adjust the fashion to suit you. I have mine tailor made, and
the only thing missing is the polyester and that stripe down the
side of the pants."
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