Workers Strike At Surfside Apartments
Chanting, "Give us a contract," and blowing whistles, hundreds of union members from throughout the peninsula swarmed through the Surfside housing complex in Rockaway Park on Tuesday afternoon, showing their support for a strike by porters, maintenance staff and superintendents against Alma Realty, the company that runs the three buildings at 107-10, 106-20 Shorefront Parkway and 1 Beach 105 Street.
In a flyer given to each of the building's residents, the union charged, "Building management is putting our health care and rights to a job in danger by refusing to sign a contract with our union that contains the standard industry terms. It has been many years since our previous union contract expired. Without a new contract, our employer is taking away many of our benefits and the protection of our union."
One of the workers on the picket line, who identified himself only as "Louie," said that the workers have had no raise and no health insurance for three years, since Steve Valiotis took over the buildings after a bankruptcy by the former owners, the Zuckerman family.
"Things were good for both the tenants and the workers under the Zuckermans," Louie, who had been working at the complex for more than 15 years, said. "The new ownership is more interested in the bottom line than the buildings."
Four months ago, workers say, the management told the staff that they had a choice: leave the union or face unemployment. Alma offered them two weeks vacation, five sick days and one personal day if they would quit the union to keep their jobs.
Only one worker made a private agreement. The others, with the support of the union, decided that it was time to go on strike.
Louie and the other workers on the line said that most of the tenants had shown support for their cause.
During the demonstration, a number stopped to join in and to show support. Some brought coffee or pizza pies to the striking workers.
"These are good guys," resident Eugene Jackson, who has lived in the buildings for eight years, told The Wave. "They're family members and vets. Management is bringing in illegal aliens in the middle of the night to take their jobs. They have our support."
Nancy Bonner has lived in the buildings for 19 years.
"The new owners are slugs," she said as she walked the picket line with the workers. "They treat the workers, who have been good to the tenants for years, badly. They have forced some of the best workers to quit because they were so underpaid and mistreated."
Another tenant, who identified herself only as "Mary," told a Wave reporter at the scene, "I've been here for 25 years and I have never seen anything like this. Management is obviously trying to bust the union to make its costs lower. This is ridiculous."
The Dayton-Surfside complex has had a troubled past.
It's former owners, certain that they had been promised a tax abatement, failed to pay taxes for many years and also, according to published reports, failed to put that tax money into an escrow account.
In 1999, facing bankruptcy and a deteriorating infrastructure, the tenants called for a rent strike at the building.
"We are tired of the landlord sucking money out of the building and putting nothing back in," a tenant leader said at the time. "These are honest people in a situation that needs to be fixed."
David Zuckerman, one of the building's principals, told The Wave at the time that he "is working to resolve the situation," but faced a $50 million tax lien on the property and was "under tremendous pressure."
Zuckerman blamed the politicians who had promised him a tax abatement and never followed through on those promises for all of his problems.
In 2000, a receiver was appointed for the buildings under the state bankruptcy laws.
Three years ago, the Zuckerman family finally lost the building when they were forced to sell it.
Workers say that their problems began when Valiotis, the new owner, refused to sign the expired union contract and refused them any raises.
Abraham Philip, who identified himself as an official of Alma Realty, refused to comment on the strike.
"I have a lawyer to take care of these things," he told a Wave reporter, but he declined to give that reporter the name or telephone number of the lawyer.