NEW YORK—Council members Rafael Salamanca and Ritchie Torres and New York State Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj rallied with building service workers in the Bronx to demand Phipps Houses ensures workers at its affiliated developments have good jobs before the Council gives Phipps the green light on a rezoning for a 220-unit complex at 1675 Westchester Avenue in the Soundview neighborhood in the Bronx.
Council members will vote on Phipps’ rezoning plan at the Zoning and Franchise Sub-committee hearing on Tuesday, October 10th.
At some of its newer developments, Phipps, the largest non-profit affordable housing developer in the city, has used contractors who are paying building service workers significantly below the standard that building service workers make at other Phipps sites. Workers and community members are calling on Phipps to ensure that its affiliated developments provide the good jobs that Bronx workers need.
“My coworkers and I have struggled to get by,” said Joel Morales, a building service worker at Phipps Houses’ Courtlandt Corners complex in the Bronx. “Many of us rely on Medicaid for health insurance because the insurance our employer offered was far too expensive on our salaries. We work in one of Phipps Houses’ affordable housing complexes, and cannot afford to rent the majority of the units in the buildings where we work. We just want to be able to provide for our families and keep them healthy. We want to be able to retire securely.”
Thirty-two members of the City Council have signed an open letter to Phipps CEO Adam Weinstein calling on him to ensure building service workers at Phipps-affiliated buildings earn family-sustaining wages and benefits. Bronx Council members and New York State Assembly and Senate members from the Bronx have also expressed similar concerns to Weinstein.
“This is about doing what is right and saying that if you can’t pay workers fair wages with good benefits, then you shouldn’t be developing new housing in the Bronx – plain and simple,” said Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Jr.
“Phipps can afford to use contractors that pay good wages and benefits to its workers at all its affiliated developments and it’s unconscionable that it chooses not to do so,” said 32BJ Vice President John Santos. “On Tuesday the Council will vote on this rezoning. We are calling on Phipps to commit to good jobs ahead of that vote and make clear its commitment to support working families . And we are glad to have members of the City Council standing with us and calling on Phipps to provide good jobs to worker New Yorkers.”
Until recently, at the largest Phipps complex to have opened in recent years, Courtlandt Corners, workers employed by a subcontractor made as little as $11.79 an hour and received no meaningful benefits. These workers struggled to afford to health insurance and some relied on Medicaid to get health coverage. Despite working at an affordable housing complex, Courtlandt Corners workers have also struggled to afford adequate housing. One worker at Courtlandt Corners lived in a shelter for over two years while working at the building. At Phipps’ Via Verde complex workers also report poverty wages and prohibitively expensive health insurance offerings.
Phipps is the largest affordable housing developer in the city but the employment record at its flagship buildings in the Bronx raises serious concerns about the kind of jobs those developments provide to New York City workers. Wages and benefits at Courtlandt Corners and Via Verde are far from the 32BJ standard which includes guaranteed annual raises, fully employer-paid family health care, a defined benefit pension plan, and access to training and legal funds. The average 32BJ member in the Bronx receives $18.76/hour.
While workers’ wages at Phipps buildings have stagnated, CEO Adam Weinstein’s own rose more than 50 percent between 2004 and 2014. Phipps reported that Weinstein earned a total compensation of over $800,000 in 2015.
Photos: Available upon request
With 163,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C., including 80,000 in New York City, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.