The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 1      January 10, 2011

(front page)
Locked-out building workers
get aid from unions, tenants
SEIU Local 32BJ
Rally in support of locked-out workers at Flatbush Gardens in Brooklyn, December 2.

BROOKLYN, New York—Maintenance workers and porters organized by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ at the Flatbush Gardens apartments here are fighting a lockout by Renaissance Equity Holdings. The more than 70 workers have maintained picket lines seven days a week at several entrances to the 59-building complex.

Landlord David Bistricer locked out the workers November 29 and hired replacements. The company said it would continue to do so until Local 32BJ workers accepted "the best and final proposal presented to them on September 1."

Some 200 protesters turned out in front of the management office December 22 in a rally called by the Flatbush Gardens Tenants Association. Participants included locked-out workers, tenants, and other neighborhood residents. Seven members of SEIU Local 32BJ from the nearby Spring Creek Apartments also came in solidarity.

Among those addressing the rally were: Michael Fishman, president of Local 32BJ; locked-out workers Lucien Clarke and Lance Boyce; Marietta Short, president of the tenants association, and several Democratic Party politicians, including Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.

“The fight starts here,” Clark told the rally. “If Bistricer breaks us, others are watching and will follow the pattern. This fight is for everybody.”

The union says the company wants to cut wages by more than 30 percent and make workers pay for health insurance.

"At Flatbush Gardens, you'll save money without sacrificing your standard of living," says the company website.

Workers on the picket line present a different picture. They filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about overflowing raw sewage, leaking overhead waste pipes, and vermin infestations. Shawn Williams, a boiler technician, said they had to use duct tape to repair leaky pipes.

Workers add that the landlord refuses to supply them with adequate materials or cleaning supplies. Tenants have noted that workers sometimes pay out of pocket for supplies like outlet covers and air fresheners.

With 8,100 outstanding building code violations, Bistricer appears on the New York City Public Advocate's "Worst Landlords Watch List."

According to Desmond Tennant, the union steward at Flatbush Gardens and a maintenance worker for 33 years, UPS drivers and Verizon phone technicians have honored the picket lines. City Department of Sanitation workers have refused to pick up trash except when ordered by the Department of Health. Locked-out worker Herman Hinds said police escort the sanitation trucks, "trying to make us out as hooligans."

Other unionists have visited the pickets, bringing coffee, tea, soup, and money. They include members of SEIU Local 1199, the Transport Workers Union, and United Steelworkers. An earlier solidarity rally December 2 also drew tenants and unionists.

“It’s rough out here, but we will win through unity and staying together,” Brian Roseh, a handyman for 20 years, told the Militant following the December 22 rally.

Dan Fein contributed to this article.  
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