Re-hired! Kent Avenue workers get job back, though no union

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Two workers who were fired in May after trying to organize a union in a Williamsburg luxury rental building are finally back on the job — though the building remains non-unionized.

Penil Martinez, a maintenance worker, and Jose Guzman, a concierge, reported to work on Monday at 184 Kent Ave. after a seven-month labor battle cost them their jobs and embarrassed the building’s developer.

“We’re happy that we were able to help these men get reinstated on their jobs, with substantial back pay, but the fight to raise standards for Brooklyn building workers isn’t over,” said Kyle Bragg, a vice president of the Service Employees International Union. “We can celebrate when all building workers in Brooklyn have job security and begin receiving industry standard wages with affordable healthcare and benefits.”

New residential buildings along the Williamsburg waterfront are required by city zoning to use unionized workers, but the celebrated Austin Nichols Warehouse was exempted because it was merely renovated into apartments.

But that didn’t stop Martinez and Guzman from trying to organize their colleagues under the banner of the Service Employees International Union, citing 13-hour workdays with no overtime pay and no health insurance.

As they were attempting to unionize, they were fired.

For several months, union members and Councilman Steve Levin (D–Williamsbu­rg) lobbied the building’s developer to rehire the men. Levin even endured a wild afternoon in July when he tried to find someone — anyone — among the building staff who would accept signed petitions that he hoped to drop off.

Levin personally congratulated Martinez and Guzman at the building’s entrance on Monday, and said he was “thrilled” that the men were rehired after being “illegally fired” earlier this year.

It’s unclear why they were rehired. The building’s manager who did the original firing has been quietly dismissed, as was a superintendent. Spokesmen for Roseland Properties and the building’s developer, JMH Development, declined to comment.

Though back on the job, Martinez is wary of lingering resentment.

One of his colleagues who signed a union card has been transferred to a building in New Jersey, and he says he was ordered to move a 75-pound garbage bag, by himself, which was not part of his maintenance duties. He has a sore back and has already filed a complaint

“Something is going to happen here, I already see it,” said Martinez. “[The management] definitely does not want a union here. They’re moving our remaining persons who signed cards out from the facility.”

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Reader Feedback

robertaviles from california says:

You know what You guys should stop complaining because, one the health care we have now isnt as good as it was supposed to be. also the law has just been signed so give it some time. so if u want to say u have the right to choose tell that to ur congress men or state official. If you do not have insurance and need one You can find full medical coverage at the lowest price by searching online for "Wise Health Insurance" If you have health insurance and do not care about cost just be happy it and trust me you are not going to loose anything!
Dec. 16, 2010, 3:45 am
Sam from North 6th Street says:
The Hell with UNIONS!
Dec. 16, 2010, 10:37 am
Kim from Bushwick says:
first victory for councilman Levin in 1 1/2 year, that's a big accomplishment....

stave look for another job it dosed look to good election is around the corner....
Dec. 16, 2010, 3:59 pm
Jackie from Bay Ridge says:
Congratulations on your victory. We need more workers to stand up for their rights and put an end to corporate greed. It is your right under the law to organize and seek union representation. Keep up the fight. In solidarity, a union sister.
Dec. 16, 2010, 7:03 pm
rae from California says:
In 'these times 'the Unions should be stronger than ever. The admin and management need to be taken down once again!!!

I worked 20 yrs for local government and I have a 24,000 year pension plus $2400 from my union... I think that is about equal to the city managers' weekly salary....

I'd be happy to help for this cause.........
Dec. 19, 2010, 3:30 pm
Vlad from woodside says:
Great news. Congrats.
Jan. 8, 2011, 6:23 am
royale noriega from williamsburg says:
The management of this company needs to stand strong and get tough with these workers.
Our company supplies the doormen and porters for the buildings of Karl Fischer Row on Bayard Street, across from McCarren Park.We pay our employees, some of whom have worked for us upwards of 3 years, $9-$11 an hour.They receive no health benefits.They receive no paid vacation time.Sick time is paid at our discretion.No clothing/uniform allowance is provided.Doormen may not leave the building for any reason and must remain on duty until relieved.If their relief fails to show up, they are forced to work the next shift.If they refuse to do so, they are suspended or fired.No food or drink is offered or provided for any employee forced to work an extra shift.Anyone who complains about work conditions is reminded that they can have a good recommendation when they leave our employ.During a mold removal project in one of the Bayard Street buildings, a doorman griped that fumes in the lobby were making it difficult to breathe and he feared getting sick.This employee was immediately banned from the building.
We do not consider anybody's departure a great loss since there are so many people looking for work. As you can imagine, we don't always supply the highest quality employees to the buildings we are in contract with. Whenever residents complain, they are reminded not to expect Manhattan service at Williamsburg prices.
Jan. 8, 2011, 8:44 pm
royale noriega from williamsburg says:
That said,we also provide doormen to several buildings in Manhattan.In some locations, our non-union employees work along side 32BJ members.The union has become so impotent that we can operate with impunity in both Manhattan and Brooklyn.When an organizer does come sniffing around, a well stuffed envelope is sufficient to make any problems go away.
So stay strong management of 184 Kent.Your employees are easily replaceable and your residents will not want to pay the added costs of a unionized building.
Jan. 8, 2011, 8:49 pm

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