More than a week into their strike against the Dayton Beach Park board of directors, unionized maintenance workers called upon the police to intervene on Wednesday morning as a private armed security guard allegedly pulled a firearm on the group outside the complex.
The scuffle took place in front of 8600 Shore Front Parkway sometime Wednesday morning as a private sanitation truck was blocked from entry into the building by the 20 union members who locked arms while picketing in front of the complex. Normally, the New York City Department of Sanitation picks up the garbage for the buildings, but hasn’t since the strike began last week. As a result, the building management called in an outside sanitation company to dispose of the overflowing amount of garbage coming from the building’s dumpsters.
As tensions heightened over the truck’s blocked access to the complex an employee of a recently hired private armed security force allegedly drove his car in reverse nearly hitting the men, got out and eventually pulled a gun on the group of striking workers as they stood their ground in front of the complex.
The unidentified security worker was handcuffed by police and later released as union members decided to not press charges, which most likely would not have lead to no more than a public menacing charge. He cannot be charged for revealing his weapon since the man was licensed to carry a firearm, according to officials at the scene. The security guard was not in uniform when the incident occurred. The entire maintenance staff for the more than 1,100-resident, five-building Dayton Beach Park apartment complex has been on strike since last Thursday when contract negotiations between their union and the complex’s board of directors reached a stalemate.
Contract negotiations, that go as far back as the beginning of this year, included a request by the board of directors for a reduction in maintenance staff through the firing of one super and two maintenance workers. Negotiations reached a stalemate more recently when the board additionally asked for a four-year wage freeze across the board for every worker in order to afford the new contract. According to maintenance staff, the strike resulted from what they saw as their right to a fair contract. They were prepared to reduce staff until the wage freeze was proposed.
“We agreed to a new deal but now they want to freeze wages for four years and cut staff, too,” Dayton Beach Park employee Raymond Ceballos, a shop steward in the complex, said this week. “This dispute is with management for not fairly negotiating with our union.”
Residents of the complex also protested and held signs in support of the union workers during a Sunday afternoon rally. They demanded a contract be signed so the employees could all get back to work. But the events on Wednesday were more than any of the maintenance crew had bargained for as 32BJ SEIU, a property services union that represents the maintenance workers, is still trying to get Dayton Beach Park to agree to a contract with their members as tensions begin to rise between the two parties.
“Pulling a gun out on people in the streets of New York City is an unacceptable outrage, and even more outrageous when the people are workers gathered peacefully to protect their rights,” said Kyle Bragg, vice president of 32BJ. “This is just the latest unfair intimidation that workers have been subjected to by a board president hell-bent on denying workers fair wages to support their families.”
Bragg says the workers have a right to be treated with fairness and dignity, even while on strike.
“Even in hard times, the cost of living is rising,” he continued. “But instead of treating these workers with respect and dignity, the board president is trying to cut costs on the backs of the hard-working people who keep the apartment buildings running and residents safe.”
Dayton Beach Park board of directors allowed the health benefits of the 20 union workers to expire back on April 30. Striking was always the last resort, according to the workers, many of whom also live in the Rockaways with their families.
“We can’t take our kids to the doctor, we’re forced to find other means.”
According to employee
Gene Valentin, many of the same board members that are refusing to agree on a new contract have been raised on union benefits at one time or another and “now they are telling us to take a hike.”
“We will strike for as long as it takes,” he said. “They believe we make too much money.”
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.
The foreseen increased cost of union labor, however, is the least of the complex’s fiscal woes. Just a few years ago it was reported that they were delinquent on more than $1 million in past due water bills to the city. The buildings are located at 8100, 8200, 8400, 8600 and 8800 Shore Front Parkway. Some familiar with the complex feel a root of the problem began more than ten years ago when the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development allowed a $38 million mortgage without adequate maintenance fees to pay it back and simultaneously maintain the buildings. As a result, the more than 1,100 shareholders of the properties were slapped with a 14 percent maintenance rate increase back in 2009. That increase was designed to help pay their debts. Many of the striking workers believe the lack of negotiations is a union busting tactic by the board of directors to eliminate the current workforce in favor of cheaper, non-unionized labor.