June 20, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – On Sunday, doormen and other building service workers at the 265-unit Hamilton on the Upper East Side, spent this Father’s Day striking against the property owner who has wasted no time eliminating middle-class wages and ordering employees to shut up about it.
Charles Dayan’s Bonjour Capital hasn’t even had time to change the name of the 37-story building located at 1735 York Avenue into the “Serrano” after purchasing the property for a reported $150 million in May, but the group has already slashed apartment building worker salaries by as much as half, and scrapped family medical benefits.
That action, in addition to management’s efforts to intimidate workers determined to speak out, prompted roughly 15 members of 32BJ SEIU to go out on strike last Thursday.
“I’ve got a house and a mortgage that I can’t pay now,” 50-year-old security officer B. Lochan told LaborPress. “My life is wrecked right now. We lost everything after the building was sold. The new people took over and slashed everything.”
Dayan made a fortune hawking designer “Bonjour” jeans in the 1980s before turning to New York City real estate. His company, Bonjour Capital, is now reportedly planning a $20 million renovation of the 280,000 square-foot Hamilton, situated between E. 90th and E. 91st Street.
Heng Ley, 44, has spent the last 25-years working as a doorman at the Hamilton. It was his first job. The $24-an-hour salary with benefits he was earning before Bonjour Capital bought the property from Glenwood Management earlier this spring, allowed him to raise two sons — one in the military, the other headed for the NYPD — and, more recently, a five-year-old daughter.
“My only little girl — and right now she has no medical insurance,” Ley said. “And that’s what kills me.”
Tenants of the Hamilton who have established strong relationships with Ley and the rest of his colleagues over the years, became strongly supportive of the striking workers when they learned what was happening. But when apartment building workers initially began wearing their union buttons and discussing the assault on middle-class wages and benefits — Ley says the new managers immediately tried to muzzle them.
“The management told me to take off my buttons and not to talk to my tenants about what’s going on or what we’ve been going through,” Ley said. “But that’s my freedom of speech, you know?”
The union has formally charged management with unfair labor practices at the National Labor Relations Board.
Nearly a week into the strike, workers say that the Hamilton tenants are, indeed, helping to sustain their struggle for a middle-class existence.
“The tenants are very supportive,” Ley added. “They feel very bad for us. They know that I have kids, and right now don’t have medical for my daughter. They see us outside here, they buy us drinks and pizza. They keep us going.”
According to 32BJ Vice-President John Santos, Bonjour Capital’s decision to scrap benefits and reduce wages below fast-food worker levels, is just a blatant attempt to silence workers and drive out the union.
“If it wasn’t for the Displaced Workers bill, [Dayan] would have just bought the building and kicked out all the workers,” Santos said. “But the law requires he keep the workers here for 90 days.”
The New York City Displaced Building Service Workers Protection Act, originally enacted back in 2002, was just recently expanded in May of this year.
Bonjour Capital’s new team of managers and contractors, meanwhile, have reportedly hired replacement workers to fill the rolls of striking employees.
“Management’s goal is to silence workers and take away their freedom of speech in demanding good jobs; but these workers are not going to be silent,” Santos said.
Bonjour Capital could not be reached for comment.