Philadelphia – This afternoon fired union workers from 2116 Chestnut Street were arrested after refusing to leave the building lobby. With almost no notice, building cleaners, security officers and maintenance workers—members of 32BJ SEIU—were terminated from their jobs at 2116 Chestnut Street on Friday after the 319 unit residential apartment building was sold to CBRE Global Investors for $160 million. CBRE’s property manager, Greystar, refused to hire them. Joined by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and weatherman John Bolaris, the workers and their supporters rallied outside the building before entering the lobby to demand action.
“I got arrested because I need this job. It’s my livelihood. I have bills to pay and losing my income and medical insurance is really not an option for me,” said Phil DiMaio, a terminated worker who was arrested.
Since they were fired, workers have delivered petitions from a majority of the tenants calling for them to be rehired. They have visited CBRE’s headquarters and Greystar, the property manager’s office. All this week, they leafleted outside of the building, garnering an outpouring of support from the tenants. On Monday, they entered the building to ask the Greystar for their jobs back. With no response, workers took the drastic step to occupy the building.
“I can’t afford to leave. I have a special needs son. My wife can’t work because she takes care of him. Now, we have no income. How are we supposed to care for our child? This is my only option. I have to fight for my family,” said Marian Gwadera, a terminated housekeeper.
The arrests followed a rally of more than 100 union members and tenants calling for the workers to be rehired. Rent at the luxury high rise starts at $2,750 a month. Terminated Security Supervisor Kim Cooper says workers provided a high standard of professionalism that can’t be matched by low-wage workers who replaced them.
“We take pride in our jobs and give a high standard of professional customer service. You can’t take someone to a fancy restaurant and have a culinary student making the food. It just doesn’t work. It lowers the standards,” said Kim Cooper, a fired security supervisor.
Ironically, the site of the luxury apartment building has a long history with labor. Union money and $20 million dollars in state funding were used to build the building. The Sidney Hillman Medical Center which provided health care to unionized textile workers was once housed on the site.
Tenants are outraged over the treatment of the beloved workers. The professional service they provided are what tenants came to know and love.
“I live in this building. These people became like my family. When you’re in a building where you feel secure, you feel like you’re coming home to people you know and love. An injustice is done when hardworking people are tossed into the street for no reason. A great injustice has taken place here,” said Bolaris.
“It’s bad for the neighborhood and it’s bad for the city when we put profits over people . People in this neighborhood are with you,” said Ben Waxman, Center City Residents Association.
Workers say they will not stop until they get their jobs back.
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With 145,000 members in eleven states and Washington, D.C., including 22,000 in Pennsylvania, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.