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Labor Union in Bitter Dispute with LIC Developer

TF Cornerstone building at 4720 Center Boulevard in Long Island City
TF Cornerstone building at 4720 Center Boulevard in Long Island City
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

LONG ISLAND CITY – One of the city’s most powerful labor unions, 32BJ, says a real estate firm that owns a luxury Queens high-rise with the view on the United Nations prevents the building’s workers from unionizing and fails to provide decent benefits and adequate training.

The developer, TF Cornerstone, however, said Friday that most of the building’s employees do not want to join the union and that the firm provides benefits above union standards.

“Our longstanding position is that when and if a majority of the employees at the Long Island City property vote democratically in a secret ballot election as supervised by the National Labor Relations Board to recognize Local 32BJ as their bargaining agent, we will, as we have had many times in the past at several properties, recognize the union as their bargaining agent,” said TF Cornerstone Executive VP Kevin P. Singleton in a phone conversation.

But the union said the developer had not provided employees at 4720 Center Blvd. with industry-standard job security and retirement plans.

The union also contends the workers have lower health benefits, fewer sick and personal days, and minimal or no safety training.

 “Many workers stated to us that they don’t even know where the alarm system is - they’ve never been trained in emergency evacuation or fire safety,” said Joe Eisman, an organizer at SEIU 32BJ.

Eugenio Villasante, a union spokesman, said of the building’s 22 employees, 12 had expressed an interest in joining 32BJ. The workers didn’t want to speak with the press out of the fear that they would lose their jobs, he said.

For the past several months, 32BJ has erected one of its giant inflatable rats in front of the building every few weeks and distributed flyers to residents.

“I see them all the time,” said Sheila Wojciechowska, 29, who rents a small 1-bedroom apartment in the building and pays $2400 a month. “I think they have the right to join the union and enjoy the same benefits as other workers. Job security is really important.”

Wojciechowska is one of 434 residents of the building who signed a petition in support of workers.

The petition reads: “We pay top-dollar here and we expect professional, top-level service from the employees at our building. However, we also expect that these employees will be treated fairly, which should include industry-standard pay and benefits.”

The petition was sent to TF Cornerstone by local Council Member Jimmy Van Barmer who has also tried to get the developer to sit at the table with 32BJ to discuss the issue.

It’s not the first time the developer has been in conflict with 32BJ.

In 2010, a similar standoff occurred at a TF Cornerstone building at 505 W. 37th Street in Chelsea over charges that the employer threatened to discharge workers if they supported the union and of threatening to give those who backed unionization an increased workload.

In 2011, TF Cornerstone signed a settlement in which it agreed to stop those practices at the building.