Locked out workers say greedy landlord ruining Christmas

Angry workers, tenants, and politicians gathered outside the management office of Flatbush Gardens three days before Christmas to protest the three-week-old lockout of 70 maintenance workers who claim they can’t celebrate the holidays because of a greedy landlord.

“For the first time ever, we’ve had to cancel Christmas,” said Shawn Williams, a boiler technician and resident at the complex, who attended the rally with his young son on his shoulders.

The lockout followed months of negotiation between the Local 32BJ union representing workers at the 59-building, 2,500-unit complex — bounded by Foster Avenue, Brooklyn Avenue, Newkirk Avenue and Nostrand Avenue — and owner Renaissance Equity Management, which is demanding a 34 percent pay cut — from $18–$20 down to $12–$14 per hour — plus an employee contribution of roughly $100 a month for health benefits.

Local representatives from the neighborhood and beyond were on hand to drive home the point that the lockout is ruining the holiday season.

“We wanted to do this just before the holidays to embarrass the owner,” said Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D–Bushwick).

But the complex owner Holdings blamed the union for the Christmastime lockout.

“It took the union two months to come to the bargaining table and then an additional eight months to reach an impasse,” said spokesman Richard Rubenstein.

The proposed pay cuts are considered by some to be par for the course from a company that doesn’t seem to care about the property it owns.

“What the owners are doing to the union is an extension of what they have been doing to the tenants for a long, long time,” said Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Flatbush).

The complex has been cited by the city for nearly 8,000 violations, including basements flooded with raw sewage, cockroach and rodent infestations, exposed wires, and missing windows.

Renaissance bought the complex in 2005 for $138,500,000, and has been marketing it to upscale urban professionals, urging them to move to East Flatbush to live in apartments being compared on the complex’s website, http://www.flatbushgardens.net, to those in Stuyvesanttown, a similar-sized complex in a neighboring borough.