Community board members in Sunnyside, after tabling the issue twice in previous months, agreed on Thursday night to support unionized and nonunionized workers in their efforts to receive fair compensation.
The general, wide-net approach the board took on workers’ rights is intentional.
“We’re not supporting or not supporting 32BJ, we’re supporting the workers,” board member Moitri Savard said.
For months the Service Employees International Union 32BJ has asked the board at CB 2 to back workers’ rights in general and more specifically to support employees at a TF Cornerstone luxury condo, called EastCoast, on Center Boulevard in Long Island City, in their efforts to unionize. TF Cornerstone owns buildings in Manhattan and Queens and is developing seven condos on the waterfront in LIC.
All parties were pleased with the outcome.
“It benefits us as a community,” union and board member Nick Troya said of the resolution backing the workers, which passed with the support of all members present save Al Volpe, who voted no, and one who abstained.
“It basically supports TF Cornerstone. We respect the right to organize or not and to have a fair and democratic election,” TF Cornerstone Executive Vice President Kevin Singleton said, during a later interview.
There are two ways to unionize. The company and the union could voluntarily sit down together or the workers could vote in a secret ballot election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.
Workers at the building do not want to take an official vote, because the legal process could take up to eight years, according to 32BJ Organizing Coordinator Joe Eisman. A voluntary sit-down between the parties could happen right away, he added.
Singleton disagreed. He said the voting process has been streamlined.
“Until they agree to a democratic election I’m not interested in talking to them,” Singleton said.
Singleton alleges that 32BJ is attempting to bully the company and workers into unionization. Similarly, 32BJ reps and members say the company is bullying and intimidating workers at EastCoast into not expressing their desire to join a union.
In October 2010 TF Cornerstone and 32BJ settled a dispute, which alleged that a TF Cornerstone agent threatened employees with “discharge if they supported the Union,” at the company’s 505 West 37 St. building. The company was required by the National Labor Relations Board to post a sign in the building’s locker room saying it would not threaten its employees.
Although TF Cornerstone offers a competitive hourly salary, the union and some workers at TF Cornerstone buildings all over the city have spoken out against the company saying they want better benefits.
“They have a few mouthpiece types promoting the benefits of unionization,” Singleton said, adding this might not be the majority opinion.
At the LIC building, 12 out of the 20 service employees have publicly, by printing their pictures on a pamphlet, asked to unionize, said EastCoast porter Jakup Llolla.
“This is an issue about fairness and equality,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said at the meeting, adding he fully and “strongly” supported 32BJ.
As members of 32BJ, after paying monthly fees, workers would receive a $1,200 to $1,400 pension after at least 25 years of work and access to free classes ranging from carpentry to fire safety.
TF Cornerstone does not offer a pension. However, the company offers employees a 401(k) plan. For every dollar an employee contributes TF Cornerstone adds 50 cents. As for training, the employer offers $1,000 to take classes.
“Residents pay so much money, they can afford these benefits,” Llolla said.
“I know my building in the Bronx doesn’t have apartments that cost $4,000 and they can afford to pay for training,” 32BJ member Alex Vargas said.
On May 3 the board decided to table a letter of support for the workers to TF Cornerstone. The members wanted more information, which echoed their request from April 12. Many members thought the original letter was too specific to this labor dispute. The new letter and resolution are a general proclamation in favor of workers’ rights. Singleton had asked the board to reject the original resolution.
“We are supporting workers’ rights. If they want to unionize they should be able to,” CB2 Chairman Joe Conley said.