August 29, 2014
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—About 50 building workers protested outside 520 West 23rd Street on Thursday, August 28, 2014 because they say that the residential condo board’s refusal to recognize their union of choice reflects the growing gentrification of the Chelsea neighborhood where building owners and developers aren’t paying living wages and benefits.
Kyle Bragg, secretary-treasurer for 32BJ SEIU, the property services union, said in the accompanying video interview that he joined with the workers because the promise of economic development in and around the High Line, the 1 mile linear park built on 1.45-mile section of a disused railroad spur, is going unfulfilled.
“Developers promised to come in and build up a neighborhood, but all they did was build a neighborhood for the wealthy. People and small businesses are being driven out of Chelsea because they can’t afford it. We’re here today to make sure that workers who are employed along the High Line get dignity,” said Bragg.
William Rosado has been working at 520 West 23rd Street for over seven years. He and his fellow workers have been trying to collectively bargain as members with 32BJ but the building’s condo board refuses. He said he likes his job, but needs health benefits to address ongoing health issues.
“We work hard in this building, but for some reason they don’t want to negotiate. I have health problems, and one of the reasons why we want to join the union because I can’t afford to pay for a doctor anymore,” said Rosado.
Miguel Acevedo, president of the Fulton Housing Tenants Association in Chelsea, joined the building workers to show support. He said that Chelsea’s gentrification hasn’t benefitted long-time residents with jobs or affordable housing.
“I want to make sure that residents who live in public housing in Chelsea have the opportunities to get these [union] jobs. I know of only one person that works in one of the buildings in all of these buildings that have been built in the last 10 years here in Chelsea. That’s incredible; there was supposed to be community involvement,” said Acevedo.
32BJ’s Bragg said that going forward developers and property managers have to respect the rights of workers who want to organize themselves.
“And you do that by paying them a decent wage that they can live on here in New York City,” said Bragg.