A tale of two City Points! Union: ‘Affordable’ tower workers paid less than market-rate building employees

A tale of two City Points! Union: ‘Affordable’ tower workers paid less than market-rate building employees
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

You’ve heard of poor doors — now meet the poor doormen.

Service workers in the below-market-rate housing high-rise at Downtown’s new City Point megacomplex say they’re being paid less than their counterparts at its market-rate tower next door, and rallied outside the building on Tuesday to demand their employer give them the same wage for the same work.

“It’s not fair to us, we should be getting paid the same,” said Quetcy Ramirez, a full-time concierge at 7 Dekalb Ave. “I just hope they give in so we can make a little more money and live better.”

The two towers are both part of the massive mall, office, and residential compound on city-owned land at Albee Square West and Fulton Mall, but different developers are responsible for each — 7 Dekalb, which houses mostly so-called “affordable” units, is run by Acadia Realty Trust, while the entirely market-rate City Tower next door is run by the Brodsky Organization.

City Tower workers make a minimum of $18 per hour. The contractor that provides 7 Dekalb’s workers, Kent Services, initially paid Ramirez and the six or so other service staff at $12 per hour, though later gave some, including Ramirez, a $3 raise, she said.

Still, she and her truck-driving husband had to move out of their East New York apartment and move in with family in Fort Greene because they could no longer afford their rent, she said.

The workers say they quickly got wise to the disparity between the two buildings, and now they’re attempting to unionize with Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, whose members rallied with them on Tuesday.

The employees delivered Kent Services a petition demanding a raise and permission to unionize free of retaliation last month, but have not heard back, according to union spokeswoman Rachel Cohen.

Pay up: Union service workers and non-union workers rallied outside City Point’s 7 Dekalb building on Tuesday calling for higher wages.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

The workers and union would be satisfied with one of three outcomes, Cohen said — Acadia can hire the service workers directly at a minimum of $18 per hour, recruit another subcontractor to do the same thing, or demand Kent Services just pay the higher rates.

The union would help negotiate the contract once the workers join, she said.

“Affordable housing” isn’t really living up to its name if the jobs it creates don’t pay enough to live on, the union said in a release. “We can’t build our way out of the affordable housing crisis,” it said. “We need to make sure that people are earning enough to afford housing. Good jobs and affordable housing go hand-in-hand.”

It is not the first time Acadia has come under fire for its labor practices. Union construction workers rallied outside the tower in 2012, claiming the developer short-changed the non-union workers who built the 23-floor tower and arguing they should have been hired for the job in the first place.

The City Point developers received a $20-million federal bailout in 2009 after construction stalled — via tax-free bonds they have to pay back — on the basis of the jobs and below-market housing the complex would create.

A whopping 88,500 people applied for one of 7 Dekalb’s 200 below-market-rate apartments, which are earmarked for households earning between $18,515 and $142,395, with rents ranging between $500 and $2,455 a month.

Available units in one of City Tower’s 440 market-rate units start at around $2,650 for a studio and soar up to $6,198 a month for a two-bedroom on the 39th floor.

Acadia did not return requests for comment.

Paid less: Concierge Quetcy Ramirez makes $15 per hour at 7 Dekalb, or $3 less than her counterparts in the swankier City Tower building next door in the mixed City Point complex.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Reach reporter Dennis Lynch at (718) 260–2508 or e-mail him at dlync[email protected]local.com.