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

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

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.”