More than 100 people, including workers in buildings along the High Line—the elevated park with scenic views and pricey artisanal treats at a once down-and-out area of the city—and their supporters marched for fairness and higher wages and benefits standards at the park’s luxury apartments.
Employers in the neighborhood are hiking prices to take advantage of the now-desirable real estate while porters and concierges who in buildings buttressing the High Line say they are not sharing in the prosperity.
32BJ SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Kyle Bragg said what the High Line Park is becoming—a bastion of the wealthy where workers receive substandard wages and benefits—could not have been what neighborhood and city leaders had in mind when they fought to improve the area.
“Is it too much to ask that the High Line Park be a good place for people to work, too?” Bragg said. “You’ve heard the saying, a rising tide lifts all boats? Well, workers in buildings along the High Line—Porters and Concierges—are not experiencing the same economic boom as their employers. They are struggling to support themselves and their families.”
Buildings along the High Line Park include 231 10th Ave., 520 West 23rd Street, and 200 11th Avenue.
At one building, where a one-bedroom currently lists for $4,250 a month, workers earn as little as $10.60 an hour, have no health insurance coverage or paid sick days. At another, where rock star David Byrne lives, wages start at $12.10 while one-bedroom apartments go for more than $1.6 million. A penthouse apartment in a building where rocker Mick Jagger and actress Nicole Kidman live just sold for more than $6.8 million. Workers at that building have benefits that are well below the standard for residential workers across the city. One of the workers is scrambling to pay $300 out of pocket every month for prescriptions.
Cesar Coronel said he was forced to take a second job just to make ends meet.
“Now I’m working an average of 60 hours a week and sometimes up to 80 hrs a week,” he said. “I have 4 children and a wife at home and I feel like I never get to see them and spend time with them. When I get home at night my children are sleeping and I have to leave for my second job before they wake up.”
Another worker, 60-year-old William Rosado, says he lives paycheck to paycheck to pay his bills and he could not even contemplate retirement because he’s not able to save enough. He gets emotional talking about his health insurance.
“I have to pay a $50 co-pay to go to the doctors,” he said. “I don’t know what would happen if I was seriously sick. My wife also has to work because my insurance only covers me the little bit that it does cover. I have problems with high blood pressure and recently I had to miss a doctor’s appointment because I didn’t have the money. I started to feel dizzy and disoriented and when I finally went back to the doctor she told me that I had almost had a heart attack.”
Protesters carrying banners and placards gathered at 231 10th Ave., then, with sign posts pointing out problem buildings along the High Line, marched across the park.
West Chelsea has become one of the city’s hottest neighborhoods. Residential property rose in value by 103% between 2003 and 2011. The High Line Park sees more than 4 million visitors per year and has been an engine for a development boom along its track. Approximately 29 projects have being built or are being built on the High Line. Many of these developments also received significant City tax breaks.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer released a statement deploring working conditions there.
“No working New Yorker should be looked in the eye and told that their health is a luxury they can’t afford, including those working in new luxury towers along the revitalized High Line,” Stringer said. “I stand with 32BJ, and the men and women who have spent their service careers as doormen, porters and concierges, in demanding a fair wage with fair benefits. The employers and residents of these buildings must do the right thing by the people who work hard for them in their homes every day and bring these workers up to the standard across the city. This is about ensuring an affordable New York for all New Yorkers.”
With more than 145,000 members, including 75,000 in New York City, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service union in the country.