A “Philosophy of Self-Discipline”

Ralph Osorio is recognized as Outer Borough Residential Worker of the Year at the 2021 Building Service Worker Awards.

| 29 Apr 2021 | 12:03

Ralph Osorio’s path to becoming a porter was a winding one.

Before finding work through the union, when he was a dog walker, Osorio met a doorman who later introduced him to 32BJ. Osorio went on to work as a porter in Brooklyn, where he was born and raised, as part of a “summer relief” team — which meant that he was hired as a temporary worker who rotated with full-time staff to make their shared workload more manageable — before landing a more permanent job in Queens in 2014.

Now, Osorio works in seven different buildings with over 400 apartments each. He’s found fulfillment in working as his own team of one. “There’s something about being responsible for yourself and being held accountable to your own work,” he said, “that’s comforting.”

COVID-19, however, has changed Osorio’s life and work, at least temporarily. Typically, Osorio is responsible for tasks like taking out garbage and cleaning building lobbies, as well as re-waxing floors and cleaning windows in individual apartment units during the period of time between a previous tenant’s move and a new tenant’s arrival. Lately, he’s taken cleaning and disinfecting to new levels. “I washed my hands so much,” he said of his habits during the pandemic, “the skin started to crack.”

During the initial height of COVID-19’s grip on the city, Osorio worked in a building in Queens near Elmhurst Hospital, where he noticed that COVID-19 patient deaths were marked by the presence of a refrigerated truck that stored bodies. On one day in particular, he estimated that nearly 20 people had died.

“I was at the epicenter of the epicenter,” Osorio explained.

He credits 32BJ with providing ample personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks and disinfectant products, for use while on the job as an essential worker.

To stay informed on current events, including the ever-changing COVID-19 landscape, Osorio enjoys listening to political podcasts like “The Rational National.” In his down time, he plays chess and indulges in binging sci-fi TV shows like Star Trek.

Now, though, Osorio is looking forward to expanding his horizons as life gradually shifts back to normal. He’s hopeful that he might be able to spend time at Rockaway beach this summer, and he’s started seeing movies in-person again after theaters reopened at limited capacity in the city this spring.

One of his greatest inspirations — Bruce Lee — happens to combine Osorio’s love of film and his childhood practice of martial arts with his sense of duty on the job today.

“One of the reasons I fell in love with him,” Osorio explained, “was his philosophy of self-discipline.”