2011-05-06 / Top Stories

DBP-Union Battle Turns Nasty

By Howard Schwach

The mostly-middle class shareholders of the Dayton Beach Park Cooperative are locked in a battle with the powerful Local 32 BJ SIEU Union and the battle is turning contentious and nasty.

The union contract expired last year and so far the cooperative’s board of directors, led by President Jennifer Grady, has refused to sign a new contract.

The union claims that Grady has told residents that Dayton Beach Park can no longer afford union workers and calls the president of the fivebuilding complex who reportedly grew up in a union home, a union buster, determined to fire all the union workers and hire cheaper, non-union labor.

Grady denies that. In an email to The Wave this week, Grady said, “[the idea that I would say] that I wanted to get rid of the union workers and hire lower-paid immigrant workers is disgusting and totally false. There has not been one statement to residents about getting rid of any union worker or hiring anyone else, no matter what nationality they are a part of. To make such false statements to The Wave shows a lack of integrity that they would try and enforce an unfair maintenance contract on shareholders again.”

Because of the battle and the board’s refusal to sign a contract with Local 32BJ, all of the unionized workers lost their benefits as of midnight on Saturday, April 30.

A group of unionized workers came to The Wave a week ago to make their point.

Although they asked not to be identified for fear of retribution on the part of the board, they were angry about how they were being treated by Grady, whom they charge with “union-busting” and bargaining in bad faith with the workers.

Angered by a demonstration at the complex two weeks ago, a protest led by Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, Grady wrote an op-ed piece for The Wave this week in which she excoriates Simon and the union.

“Simon does not represent Dayton Beach Park’s district, yet he had decided to politically grandstand against Dayton Beach Park and it’s shareholders for the benefit of the huge and powerful 32BJ SEIU, the union which represents [our] maintenance workers,” Grady said. “I wonder if Simon considered fairness for the residents of Dayton Beach Park. While the average Dayton Beach tenant earns just $22,800 a year, the maintenance workers earn nearly twice that – an average of $44,000 a year. They also get 14 paid holidays, 10 paid sick days and 100 percent paid medical, dental, vacation and pension benefits.”

“Simon would rather we raise the maintenance fees to the residents because every penny of the 10 percent wage increase and 20 percent benefit increase demanded by the workers would come out of the pockets of those who live here,” she added.

She suggests that the workers start negotiating about give-backs and reductions in benefits rather than demonstrating for something that the residents can’t afford to pay.

The union, however, scoffed at the figure of $22,800 a year as the average salary of those who live in the complex.

“She knows that number is not a true number,” a union source said. “Nobody who lives in that complex and works regularly is making such a small salary.”

The problems at the five Shore Front Parkway buildings between Beach 81 and Beach 90 Street are not new.

Most recently, it was revealed that the management company running the complex had not paid its water bill in years and owed millions of dollars to the city. Many who live there say that the fiscal problems of the buildings go back more than a decade, when the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development allowed a $38 million mortgage without the maintenance fees to back it up.

In January of 2009, the 1,147 shareholders in the Mitchell-Lama complex got notice under their apartment doors that they would see a 14 percent increase beginning February 1.

For some, that meant doubling the amount they paid each month for their apartments. Grady says now that the raises really totaled nearly 25 percent, and were due to the unpaid water bills.

Grady, who took over the reins of the cooperative in 2008, says that the management company that ran the complex that forced all the water bill problems was hired not by her, but by the former board president. That company has been replaced, she says, by Wentworth Property Management, a company that has “done an extraordinary job of helping the new board of directors bring back the physical and financial condition of Dayton Beach Park.”

She says that the management group, as well as the former president, knew the fact that the water bills were not being paid.

“Shareholders now pay on average $300 more a month than they did a few short years ago,” Grady says, adding that the demands of the union would cause another maintenance raise.

Last year, City Comptroller and mayoral candidate William Thompson urged that the state investigate the complex’s fiscal affairs.

Meanwhile, union officials have ramped up the rhetoric against Grady and her supporters on the board.

“Shame on you, Grady,” a letter to The Wave said. “You were brought up in a household where a unionized MTA worker paid all the bills and now you try and take the food and the benefits out of our mouths.”

The union plans a massive demonstration at the complex in the next two weeks, promising to announce the date “shortly.”

On the other hand, Grady argues, “Dayton Beach residents have suffered enough and deserve better than to be pawns in a shameless politically-motivated game. Just as Simon chose to rally for the union, I will rally for the residents of Dayton Beach Park.”

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