More than a hundred supporters joined a protest rally today in front of a Park Slope luxury apartment complex to demand that the building’s service workers, who say they were fired in retaliation for their union activities, be rehired.
Service workers at Arias Park Slope–a 95-unit rental property at 150 4th Avenue, Brooklyn where monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment currently lists for $3,276, are also demanding a living wage, with back pay retroactive to when the building became exempt from paying full real estate taxes.
“Everything that from day one, from March of 2012, everything that is owed to me, that they’ve cheated me out of, I would like to get that back,” Jose Casillas, a concierge at the building, said. “And I want get my job back, with union representation.”
150 4th Ave. is one of 92 luxury buildings in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan that currently participate in the 421-a tax exemption program that grants city buildings significant tax exemption in exchange for affordable housing and prevailing wages and benefits for the buildings’ service workers. Based on the number of units in these 92 sites, a conservative estimate is that about 600 workers are affected by the 421-a program, with an additional 250 workers in 30 buildings that are planned or under construction.
A 32BJ SEIU investigation has found buildings in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan in clear violation of the rule in the 421-a program that employers provide the prevailing wage and paid benefits. A further survey of more buildings receiving the tax exemptions, which cost New York City more than $1 billion in annual tax revenues, showed the violations to be widespread and systemic.
Councilman Stephen Levin said the program needs to be reformed so workers are not cheated out of fair wages and benefits.
“That is why we reformed the program in the first place,” Levin said, “to bring more affordable housing to New York City and give workers in these luxury buildings that get the tax break a path to the middle class. They should give the workers the prevailing wages and benefits, or we’ll take away this tax break.”
With more than 125,000 members, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service union in the country.