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Highline Hotel Breaks Promise to Re-Hire Workers Laid Off After Sandy

By Mathew Katz | May 30, 2013 7:20am
 The Highline Hotel will not bring back over a dozen workers despite pledging to do so last year.
Laid-Off Workers at Highline Hotel Will Not Get Jobs Back
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CHELSEA — A former seminary-owned hotel has failed to re-hire more than a dozen workers laid off after Hurricane Sandy despite a promise by the new owners to bring them back.

The owners of the Highline Hotel — formerly known as General Theological Seminary's Desmond Tutu Center — laid off the workers after it was forced to close after Sandy flooded the building.

For months, owners MCR Development and the Brodsky Organization told workers and Community Board 4 they'd be brought back when the hotel at 180 10th Ave. reopened.

All were re-interviewed in April. But the newly chic hotel was bustling with guests in May — served by a new staff.

Tyler Morse, MCR Development's CEO, said all the former employees lacked the qualifications to work in the hotel — even though they had been working there months ago.

"We interviewed all of them against the specific criteria we're looking for for running this hotel and none were a match for our criteria," he said.

"It's not the same caliber of hotel."

The Brodsky Organization bought the 60-room hotel from the seminary in September as part of a $16 million deal, with plans to transform it into a luxury property.

After the hotel was damaged in Hurricane Sandy, the owners renovated the rooms and added a restaurant and bar with two patios. The hotel also became the first New York home of high-end coffee chain Intelligentsia.

"They kept reiterating that we would get our jobs back," said Patricia Sims, a former housekeeper at the hotel.

"We thought we were going back to work in April, and they didn't bring back any of us."

At a Community Board 4 meeting in December, Morse pledged to bring the workers back at the same wages and with full credit for their time as employees — a promise that helped win the board's recommendation for the hotel's liquor license.

For Sims, with years of experience in the hospitality industry, the idea that she's not qualified for the job was laughable.

"I think I'm very professional and courteous," she said. "I take full pride ... in the work I do and I want to make the people I'm working for look good."

"If [Morse] felt that way about us, why didn't he say something last year?" she added.

Angel Cortes, 23, worked at the Desmond Tutu Center for five years as a house man and conference services aide before being laid off after Sandy. He also re-interviewed for the job, and suspected that the hotel's owners wanted to bring on new employees for cheaper pay.

"I was being paid $18.68 an hour — we were doing well with what we were earning," he said.

"If they hired back even one person, I wouldn't think this, but I think they're just trying to save a buck."

Morse rejected that claim, saying that the company had an extensive hiring process and posted job notices on Community Board 4's website.

"In all cases, we are paying at or above where we were paying before for the same roles," he said.

For Cortes and Sims — who have been holding off on an employment search while hoping to get their old jobs back — the hotel's opening was a rude awakening.

"I was anticipating getting my job back and now my unemployment is almost over," Sims said.

"I was so sure, I trusted them on their word, and now I'm really discouraged."