Residents rally to get laid-off workers new jobs amid sale of Dranoff apartments

At the party inside the club room at Dranoff Properties’ 777 South Broad apartment building, over red Solo cups of vodka punch and plates of frosted cake from Stock’s Bakery, the question on every residents’ lips was: “Are you being retained?”

David Jackson, the gregarious, well-loved concierge, was not.

Neither was building manager Alan Anderson, who told a resident, “It’s OK. I’m at peace.”

But two of the building’s technicians still had a job and so did a leasing manager.

Still, some residents were furious.

“We’re very emotional about the way it was done,” said a teary-eyed Donna Sacks, 74, who organized the farewell party. “It didn’t feel right.”

Two weeks ago, developer Carl Dranoff announced he’d be selling all his residential apartments in the Philadelphia area to Aimco, a public real estate company that owns tens of thousands of apartment units around the country, for $445 million. The fallout of the sale that would make Aimco one of the largest owners of rental units in Philadelphia was swift: On the same day, most of the 60 workers across Dranoff’s apartments found out they might soon be unemployed. They were all invited to an open house at the Aimco-owned Park Towne Place apartments, where they could reinterview for their jobs, which, depending on their position, could become part time.

Some got offers, some did not. Aimco spokeswoman Cindy Lempke said that, so far, more than 30 Dranoff staffers still have jobs since Aimco took over Tuesday.

Camera icon TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Developer Carl Dranoff on the living room outdoor deck of the penthouse apartment of One Riverside.

In an interview, Dranoff, who had stopped by 777 South Broad on Monday afternoon to personally apologize to Jackson, said that every employee, regardless of the offer status, got severance pay. He also pointed out that some did not accept the offers that were extended.

Aimco staffs its concierges and housekeepers through a third party, following a trend of corporations farming out work as a way to have greater flexibility when it comes to staff. Aimco also makes its community managers and leasing staff more present with residents, de-emphasizing concierge services (Dranoff made them available all hours of the day) and offering self-service products such as a 24-hour package locker system.

This was reflected in the offers made from Aimco’s contractor, Connected Concierge. Jackson, 58, who worked full time and had been with Dranoff for 15 years, said he was making $11.75 an hour with paid holidays and 15 vacation days, plus a generous health-care reimbursement. During his interview with Connected Concierge, he learned the contractor offered part-time jobs that paid $14 an hour and no benefits.

Eddie Bowman, 53, a concierge for 18 years at Dranoff’s University City apartment, the Left Bank, also interviewed but wasn’t offered a job. He said that even if he were, he wouldn’t have taken it because it was part time and lacked benefits. Perhaps it would have been possible to ultimately make more money, but it would have meant working 12-hour shifts, he said.

“Business is business,” he said, at the goodbye party organized by Left Bank residents and held at the bar next door on Monday evening. “No hard feelings.”

The decision to work with a contractor for services is less of a financial decision and more reflective of business practices, said Robin Flagler, president of Philadelphia-based property management company AION Management, which uses a contractor for housekeepers. It depends on whether you think it’s better for your business to manage these kinds of workers in-house.

Camera icon Inga Saffron
Dranoff Properties’ Left Bank Apartments at 31st and Walnut Streets is one of the apartment buildings that’s being sold to Aimco. Residents were upset that many of the 20 workers in the building would lose their jobs in the sale.

As for new building owners bringing in their own team? Generally, Flagler said, new owners will keep on a previous team because they don’t usually have workers on hand to immediately staff a building, and the workers already in place have expertise and experience with specific buildings. But it depends whether the new owners think the workers are qualified and whether it fits the new company’s business model — in the Dranoff/Aimco sale, it wasn’t a perfect one-to-one transition in terms of staff.

Residents and staff said they wished they had more than two weeks’ notice. Some residents scrambled to appeal to Dranoff and Aimco to rehire workers who had not gotten offers. A group at Locust on the Park, including many Wharton MBAs, sent a letter to Dranoff on Friday urging him to “do the right thing” and get Aimco to reconsider the offers made. Four days later, at least two of the concierges at Locust on the Park got and accepted offers.

Meanwhile, Jackson, the singing and dancing concierge at 777 South Broad, is looking for a job.

On Tuesday, he said Dranoff had just called him to say he was still trying to place him at a different building.

“I’m overwhelmed with that,” he said. “We’ve had a long relationship.”