Councilman Steve Levin should have worn his running shoes to work on Tuesday — because he spent part of the afternoon chasing around the managers of a luxury condo building that recently fired two workers who claim they were just trying to form a union.
The labor-loving Williamsburg Democrat headed to 184 Kent Ave. with a fistful of petitions demanding the rehiring of the workers, Penil Martinez and Jose Guzman, but ended up being shooed away by burly security guards and given the brushoff by the building’s property manager, who scurried past Levin into her office.
Even the concierge stayed the councilman from the swift completion of his appointed rounds.
“I would like to hand this to you, you don’t have to say anything,” Levin said as he chased building manager Stacey Ferraro up a flight of stairs to her office before she shut the door in his face. “I request that you rehire the workers of this building.”
Six weeks ago, Martinez and Guzman were fired for trying to organize a union among the building’s workers — an irony, considering that other buildings along the Williamsburg waterfront employ union workers in order to gain incentives for affordable housing.
But those incentives did not apply to 184 Kent, which is a renovation of the old Austin Nichols warehouse.
The SEIU union tried to negotiate a settlement with the building’s owners, but when talks went nowhere, the union reached out to Levin to ratchet up pressure. Levin attempted to hand over a stack of signatures to building staff three times before finally dropping it off at the front desk as security led him and a crowd of union supporters out of the lobby.
“[Ferraro] doesn’t want you here,” said a security guard. “You’re trespassing.”
But Levin wouldn’t leave without delivering a parting shot of his own, in which he promised the developers would face “reckoning.”
“This is not a gray issue here,” said Levin. “There’s a right and a wrong. What’s right is that these men should be reinstated to their building and the developers should offer fair and decent wages and health care. What [the developers] decided to do is say the standards do not apply to them and that is unjust.”
The firing left Guzman facing eviction from his own apartment, and Martinez struggling to find new work again in a difficult economy.
“I was doing a good job, but firing me for supporting a union is unjust,” said Guzman. “I will fight as much as I can on this.”
A representative for the developer refused to comment for this story.
©2010 Community News Group
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