Building Trades, Features, New York, topslot

32BJ Workers Strike At Two Downtown Luxury Condos

June 10, 2019

By Steve Wishnia

Two Years, Too Long: Unionized building service workers want a fair contract now.

NEW YORK, N.Y.—Service workers at two financial-district luxury-condominium buildings went on strike June 10, after almost two years of trying to get their first union contract.

They plan to stay out “till we get a contract,” said Naim Likovic, night-shift concierge at the Setai Wall Street at 40 Broad St., as about 15 workers and supporters picketed on the sidewalk, chanting “two years, too long.”

The nine workers at the Setai and another eight at Be@William at 90 William St. joined 32BJ SEIU in 2017 and demanded a contract, but the boards of both buildings have so far refused to agree to one. At Be@William, the board has insisted that it wants to shop around for health-insurance plans each year rather than put the workers into 32BJ’s health plan, says porter Miguel Rodriguez.

Under their current plan, says concierge Jason Clifton, “guys have been dropped” and didn’t know it “until they go to the doctor and find out they don’t have insurance.”

Workers have received only one pay increase in the 10 years he’s worked there, he adds, and the building’s management won’t match their contributions to their 401(k) plans.

Perry Heidecker, an attorney representing the condo in its negotiations with 32BJ, said that another session is scheduled for July 10, so it would not be appropriate for him to comment on “substantive issues” with talks pending.

At the Setai, “the last time we got a raise was more than four years ago,” says morning-shift concierge Rauddy Sanchez. They finally got health insurance last year, two years after it was first promised, says Likovic, who adds that he had to pay $750 a year in tax penalties for not having coverage while he was waiting.

Workers there make $20.25 an hour, says concierge Jorge Rodriguez. The industry-standard wage at union buildings, according to 32BJ, is $24.90, and some workers at the two buildings on strike make as little as $18.

Pending new legislation would mandate prevailing wages when buildings benefit from lucrative tax breaks.

Meanwhile, apartments currently for sale at Be@William are advertised from $700,000 to $2.45 million. The 113-unit building’s Web site touts its Be@Spot SkyLounge’s “sleek, glass-walled rooftop setting.”

The Setai, a block south of the New York Stock Exchange, advertises its “unparalleled residential experience with exceptional hotel-quality services” and its “Zen lobby, which is meant to provide residents and visitors with a calming feeling.” The about 160 apartments in the building are worth an average of $1.1 million, according to 32BJ.

“They spend money on luxury stuff,” says Likovic. “They’re not taking care of the workers.”

These buildings “can certainly afford it,” says a 32BJ staffer on the picket line.

State Sen. Brian Benjamin (D-Manhattan) who joined the picketers, is sponsoring a bill that would require service workers at “high-end” buildings that receive the state’s Cooperative and Condominium Tax Abatement to pay “prevailing wage” and benefits, as is mandated for buildings that get the 421-a tax break for new construction. 

“If you get state subsidies and support, workers in your building should be able to have a decent life,” he told LaborPress.

The bill is still in committee in both houses of the Legislature, but Benjamin, the son of a 32BJ member, says he wants to get it passed this year.

The union estimates that it would cover more than 2,000 door persons, cleaners, and maintenance persons who work at condos and coops that receive millions of dollars in benefits from the abatement, “but fail to provide decent jobs.”

June 10, 2019

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