New York, NY – The new decade is starting off bleak this month, for building service workers in the heart of the Financial District who have either been fired outright — or forced to reapply for previously good jobs suddenly recast as paltry minimum wage gigs with zero benefits.
But they and their union brothers and sisters at IUOE Local 94 and 32BJ SEIU are fighting back in a struggle that also helps expose the myth the U.S. economy is somehow booming under Donald J. Trump.
Guys like George Iosifidis, Jose Marte and Chris Negrinelli have invested huge chunks of their lives taking care of the high end digs at 30 Wall Street — and until the advent of a new building services contractor incorporated just a scant eight weeks ago — it was enough to sustain themselves and their families.
Iosifidis spent nearly a quarter century at the property located just down the street from historic Federal Hall, working in turns as a nighttime cleaner, daytime porter, building foreman and desk concierge.
On January 8, three days after Colonnade Management introduced an outfit called Prime Cleaning Solutions into 30 Wall Street’s ecosphere, Iosifidis was terminated — or as he said during a joint union demonstration held outside the property on Wednesday —“kicked to the curb like trash.”
“The building manager offered me a phone number to call Prime Cleaning Solutions [after they denied me an application],” Iosifidis said. “I called the number and then they told me that my job was eliminated, and ‘thank you for your service, we don’t need you anymore.’ It’s a very tricky situation using third party cleaning companies to manage us and with the owner not taking any liability for their actions — they just push it onto other companies. They basically hide behind a third party cleaning company that is the bad guy. I don’t think it’s the right way to do things.”
After six years working at 30 Wall Street, Marte described suddenly having his salary virtually halved and his health insurance eliminated as a “major blow”— one that landed him in the hospital for a week.
“I don’t even know what I’m going to do to get the medication I need and continue to support my family,” Marte told LaborPress. “It’s an ideal idea for the building owner — they use a third party to hide behind — and then they pull the strings.”
Building engineer Chris Negrinelli spent nearly a decade at 30 Wall Street before being fired this year. Despite the stress of losing his longtime job, the father of two urged union solidarity and said his fellow trade unionists have demonstrated incredible support.
“This is my family here,” he said this week. “So many people reached out to me and cared and [offered] hugs and wished me good [luck] and offered me jobs. United we stand — let’s keep it that way.”
Using subcontractors as cover for heinous anti-worker practices may not be the “right way to do things” — but, increasingly, it is the way corporate elites have chosen to help further bolster their bottom line.
For instance, this past past fall, when asked why Con Edison can’t seem to guarantee livable wages and benefits for the men and women cleaning their offices — Phil O’Brien, the utility giant’s assistant director of Media Relations — told LaborPress, “This is a matter between the workers and their employer.”
“This is simply about greed — this is all about Wall Street companies getting rich off the backs of the workers of our city,” City Council Member Donovan Richards [D-31st District] told demonstrators on Wednesday. “We are facing a housing crisis of major magnitude. We have folks who need their healthcare. Workers are now being told that their salaries should be cut in half. Workers have invested their lives in ensuring that this place can be clean and they ought to be treated to the dignity and respect that they deserve.”
While the Department of Labor under the Trump administration loves to tout “record low unemployment” figures, the reality for many including the building service workers cleaning Con Ed’s offices and now those still at 30 Wall Street — is that they’re languishing in junk jobs that pay too little and offer zero healthcare.
Wages are stagnant, consumer buying power is diminished and half the country can’t afford a $400 emergency.
“In this city, it’s just so hard to find good jobs,” Marte said.“I feel no hope [going to work right now]. We don’t have health insurance — we don’t even have enough to pay rent.”
In May, fed up trade unionists rallied just next door to 30 Wall Street to jeer the use of poorly paid, untrained workers to restore the facade at 40 Wall Street — and to call on the building’s landlord — none other than Donald J. Trump — to “act like a responsible owner.”
“This is a fight against the middle class; a fight that’s gotta stop; a fight that’s gotta end,” IUOE Local 94 Downtown Business Representative Rocco Ferrigno told trade unionists on Wednesday. “We can’t have this happen — taking jobs away from hardworking people who gave up their lives, their loved ones to be in [these] buildings. During every disaster we’ve had in New York City — who stood here? Who fought for the city? Who was here every day? Who built the city? And now, there’s doing this to us?”
Iosifidis said being a union member has not only sustained him and his family, but “literally saved the lives” of both he and his wife.
“My wife is a brain cancer survivor, she had a tumor removed many years ago,” Iosifidis said. “Thanks to my union benefits she has been able to continue that care that she needs, so I have here with me today. I also have a chronic thyroid condition that requires ongoing treatment. Having Prime Cleaning Solutions come in and take all this away from us scared me and scared everyone around me. We just want to get our good jobs back.”
Denis Johnston, head of 32BJ’s New York City Security and Commercial divisions, said this fight is about more than the workers at 30 Wall Street.
“This is about their families, [too],” he said. “This about their healthcare. This is about being able to live in dignity and respect and have their hard work honored.”
City Council Member Ben Kallos [D-5th District] pledged to stand in the streets alongside trade unionists until building service workers at 30 Wall Street are “brought back at their full wages and benefits.”
“We’re going to keep fighting,” he said. “I hope that I’m not here next week, [but] I will be here every step of the way.”