Jersey City, NJ – Residential workers at a condo high-rise with million-dollar apartments walked off the job this morning on a strike to protest the condo board’s bad faith bargaining in the middle of a pandemic.
“We understand that, as essential workers, the residents of the building need us to keep them safe and keep everyday life going,” said Billy Valdez, a concierge who has worked at the building for 30 years. “But instead of acknowledging that we are putting ourselves at risk every day to do our work, the building’s condo board is making use of the pandemic to try to undercut the wages and benefits we have fought for so hard. It’s more than we can take, that’s why we’re on strike.”
Valdez is part of the bargaining committee that has been negotiating a new contract for more than a dozen workers at building. The contract expired on December 31, 2019.
In consideration for the disruptions caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, the committee representing the workers proposed extending the terms of the expired contract through the end of the year, and resume negotiations once the State of Emergency was lifted. Instead, the building’s condo board proposed cutting worker wages, as well as cutting overtime pay, holiday pay and eliminating pensions.
Workers also detailed mistreatment at the hands of the board that showed little consideration for their well-bring during the pandemic. One of the workers at the building said that after he lost his elderly mother-in-law to COVID-19, and his son tested positive, the board ordered him to quarantine without pay, forcing him to use his paid time off, in violation of the new federal law requiring employers to pay workers required to go into quarantine. After continued pressure from the workers, the board finally agreed to pay the worker for his time in quarantine.
“We have worked hand in hand with many other employers in New Jersey who understand the value of experienced essential workers and the vital services they provide, and have agreed to provide our members with some protections during this difficult time,” said SEIU 32BJ Vice President and New Jersey director Kevin Brown. “It’s unconscionable for the James Monroe board to try to use the pandemic to undercut these workers’ wages, benefits and rights.”
Using appropriate social distancing measures, striking workers laid out letters spelling out “SHAME ON YOU JAMES MONROE CONDO BOARD” across the street from the building, where residents could see from their windows.
“I go to work every day because I need to help support my three grand-kids while my son serves in the military, even though I am as worried as everyone else is about getting exposed to the disease,” said Barbara Corella, a concierge who has worked at the building since 2014 and is also part of the bargaining committee. “We think it’s reasonable to hit the pause button on negotiations, but the disrespect of the condo board in trying to cut our wages is more than we can take when we are all under such stress.”
Workers reported that before the pandemic hit, the condo board president approached workers one-on-one, asking them to sign documents saying they would support the condo board’s proposals for a new contract, rather than those presented by the bargaining committee and the union. None of the workers signed the statement, and the union filed Unfair Labor Practice charges against the board.
Local elected officials spoke out in support of the workers.
“Essential workers deserve raises, not cuts,” said Jersey City Councilman James Solomon. “The workers at the James Monroe Condo are on the front lines. I stand with them as they fight against a condo board that seeks cuts to their wages in the midst of this pandemic.”
Brown also pointed out how the situation at James Monroe highlights how vulnerable essential workers are in this moment without stronger federal protections. “Actions taken by individual employers like the board at James Monroe in this period aim to strip workers of the resources and protections their families desperately need during this unprecedented crisis,” said Brown. “This is why we, as a union, are encouraging federal action to get essential pay and layoff protections for essential workers like those at James Monroe.”
With 175,000 members in 11 states, including 13,000 in New Jersey, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country