2006-05-26 / Editorial/Opinion

Opinions Workers Have Right to Living Wage, Health Care

On paper, at least, Steve Valiotis seems to be a good man. The owner of Rockaway's Surfside Houses (1 Beach 105, 106-20 and 107-10 Shore Front Parkway) was recently honored by a breast cancer organization for his support. His official biography says that he contributes greatly to his community and his church in Astoria. That is why it is so hard to understand why the sole owner of Alma Realty and the three buildings would attempt to cut off his long-time workers from health care, accrued vacation time and three years of pay raises. In fact, to many Surfside residents Valiotis has become the quintessential absentee, evil landlord. He was literally "given" the buildings three years ago when political forces forced the Zuckerman family, who had not paid taxes on the buildings for years to give them up. From that time, he refused to sign a new contact with the union representing the workers, many of whom had been servicing the three buildings for 20 years of more. He tried to cut his costs, despite the fact that rents in many apartments have doubled under his ownership and he is currently dunning residents for the new windows (some say defective new windows) installed in the apartments. Four months ago, the workers were told they had two choices. They could quit the union and make individual deals or they could be fired. To accept the individual deals would have kept their health care intact, but it would have meant forgoing raises and giving up accrued vacation time as well as any seniority they had. Most refused. Valiotis stopped paying for the worker's health care. That spurred a strike that continues today. Last Saturday, hundreds of residents joined the workers in demonstrating that they wanted their workers back. Instead, the owners have brought in what union workers and tenants alike believe to be illegal, undocumented aliens to take their place. Tenants have told The Wave that these unvetted workers are not welcome in their homes and yet management has not only introduced them to their apartments, but has also given them the keys. We have tried to contact Valiotis and his organization, but they have so far refused comment. City Councilman Joseph Addabbo, who is trying to bring both sides together, told The Wave on Monday that they did not return any of his calls as well. What Valiotis is doing may have worked in his other buildings in northern Queens. This, however, is Rockaway - a union town if there ever was one. He will not get away with busting the union to save a couple of bucks on this peninsula.

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