NEW YORK—Hundreds of service workers at apartment buildings across the city protested at three sites in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens today, because they said employers were stiffing them out of wages and benefits mandated by a law granting luxury buildings tax exemptions.
Close to half of the buildings that are receiving tax exemptions through the city’s 421a program and are required to pay prevailing wage are out of compliance, according to a survey conducted by 32BJ SEIU. As a result, some building workers in these multi-million dollar complexes are being paid less than $10 an hour while others go without any health care coverage.
There are 57 buildings in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan that currently participate in the program and are required to pay prevailing wage. Based on the number of units in these 57 sites, a conservative estimate is that about 380 workers are affected, with an additional 250 workers in 30 buildings that are planned or under construction.
The survey showed widespread and systemic violations, with at least 26 buildings in clear violation. Workers said they would no longer stand by while employers get away with paying some of them close to minimum wage without benefits. They are calling on the city to make the developers pay them the required $22 hourly wage and benefits like paid sick days and health insurance or give back the tax breaks. The 421a program costs the city $1 billion each year.
Arias Park Slope at 150 4th Ave., Brooklyn was completed in 2011 for a total cost of nearly $46 million. The monthly rent for a one- bedroom apartment at Arias is currently listed for $3,120. The building will receive a tax exemption that will ultimately total $2.78 million.
Griffin Court Condominium at 454 W. 54th Street, New York, NY was completed in 2010 for a total cost of $109 million. The building will receive a tax exemption that will ultimately total $14.5 million. A two-bedroom apartment there is currently under contract for $1.89 million.
L Haus, located at 11-02 49th Avenue, Long Island City, NY, was completed in 2009, and will receive a tax exemption that will ultimately total $784,000. A two-bedroom apartment at L Haus is currently under contract for $1.15 million.
Jonathan Velez, 27, has been a porter-maintenance worker for 11-50 50th Ave. LLC at L-Haus in Long Island City for four years. Minor injuries, cuts and scrapes are daily features of his job. He earns $19.65 but without health benefits.
“Last year I was out of work for three days. There was no way for me to go to hospital. I had to stay home until I got better on my own,” he said.
But that was nothing compared to his ordeal on the job during and after super storm Sandy, Velez said. He described high winds that ripped out a door that struck him in the head and knocked him to the ground, leaving him with torn tendons in his left shoulder and a herniated disk in his neck. The injuries, he said, required surgery and put him out of work for six weeks.
“We need the benefits that we are entitled to,” the married father of two toddlers said. “We need peace of mind, not to be left to the whims of supervisors. More than anything, we need not to be cheated out of what the law says we are entitled to.”
Jose Casillas, 45, earns about $10 an hour as a concierge employed by PBS-AMP at Arias Park Slope. His employer needs to pay him the money owed him, the wages and benefits that he is entitled to by law, he said.
“If you get sick and take the day off, you don’t get paid,” Casillas said. “And the other thing you have to worry about is being penalized for staying home sick, or even face the threat of losing your job for getting sick. It’s always in the back of your mind. If you get sick, you don’t want to go to work and get your co-workers sick too. But what options do we have?”
Elected officials and union leaders called on developers to do the right thing.
“What’s being broken here is not just the law,” said 32BJ SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Kyle Bragg, “but the promise that New York can be a city where ordinary people can raise families, succeed and get what they deserve.”
With more than 125,000 members, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service union in the country.