September 30, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
Bronx, NY – The maintenance crew at Concourse Village’s almost 1900-unit housing complex on Morris Avenue is closer to going out on strike after the board refused to allow the union’s secretary-treasurer to address them at a town hall meeting held on Thursday night. Watch Video
Kyle Bragg, 32BJ SEIU secretary-treasurer, waited outside the Concourse Village community center for over an hour to no avail, hoping for an opportunity to speak directly to board members about the “crisis” situation that has developed at the sprawling six-building complex.
Concourse Village's 65-member maintenance crew has been working without a contract for over two years, and recently learned that their low-cost, high-quality healthcare package was being replaced with a far inferior plan that will actually cost them nearly half their monthly take-home pay to purchase.
Workers are also being asked to accept a four-year wage freeze.
“I think the decision [to strike] has been made, really,” Bragg told LaborPress following his unsuccessful attempt to address the Concourse Village board. “The decision now is, when do we pull the trigger?”
Concourse Village’s maintenance crew last went out on strike in 2005. That walkout lasted for eight days, but ultimately resulted in a signed contract.
“When they cut our benefits, they’re really cutting our lifeline,” maintenance worker Lawrence Canty said.
About 100 Concourse Village workers and supporters rallied outside the complex just prior to the start of the town hall meeting.
Angie Gonzalez, a tenant who has lived at Concourse Village for four years, voiced strong support for the maintenance workers, but warned that the board, while fearful of a work stoppage, has already begun lining up temporary workers in anticipation of a strike.
“This is a really important fight,” Gonzalez said. “Not only do we need clean buildings, but we need a fair contract. The workers deserve healthcare and an increase in their wages.”
Members of the Concourse Village board, who are responsible for contract negotiations, are reportedly also at odds with each other. According to the union, the board failed to send any representatives to the last two rounds of negotiations. The union has also filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
“It’s our hope that we’ll be able to get them back to the table and have a real conversation,” Bragg said. “There is a real solution here. There is no reason for sixty-five workers to have to go out on strike. I hope they see there is a crisis at hand. Someone has to be more deliberate about finding a resolution to it.”
Despite working without a contract for over two years, Canty says that he and his co-workers have continued to perform their duties responsibly and professionally.
“A lot of the people that live here are retired,” the father of five said. “And we feel hurt having to strike and leave them the way they’re going to be left. Because I don’t care if [the board] brings people in here [to replace us], they are going to be hurt. We know this place. Other people don’t.”
For its part, Bragg said that the union is still going to “exercise every option available” to try and resolve the standoff without a strike.
“We will spend the next few days trying to find a commonality of interests,” Bragg said. “If they don’t come to the table, we’ll be out in the street.”