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Union Workers See Wages Cut in Half Under New Building Ownership, They Say

By Camille Bautista | March 31, 2015 11:45am
 Union workers at 1711 Fulton St., a four-building apartment complex, say new management cut their wages in half and are harassing them on the job in an effort to get them to quit.
Union workers at 1711 Fulton St., a four-building apartment complex, say new management cut their wages in half and are harassing them on the job in an effort to get them to quit.
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DNAinfo/Camille Bautista

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Workers at a state-subsidized Brooklyn apartment complex say their new bosses are trying to force them to quit by slashing their wages in half, harassing them on the job and cutting their benefits.  

Eight porters, handymen and the superintendent of 1711 Fulton St. in Bedford-Stuyvesant — who are part of SEIU 32BJ — are in the process of filing unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board after Vertices Holdings LLC took over management of their complex earlier this month, according to documents and employees.

“Every day it's like you’re being constantly cursed out and since they’ve been here they keep saying things like, ‘Get rid of all the damn union workers’ and that they don’t want us,” said Ronnie Coppage, 55, a porter at the complex and the shop steward for the union.

After Vertices LLC took over earlier this month, Coppage’s hourly rate fell from $21.98 to $12 — shrinking his take-home pay from nearly $800 to $450 a week — according to paychecks shared with DNAinfo.

The changes started after developer Bushburg Properties picked up the 287-unit complex from E&M Associates for $38 million and tapped Vertices Holdings to manage the site, as first reported by The Real Deal.

The buildings, which were formerly managed by Fulton Park Four Associates, are currently under the state-subsidized Mitchell-Lama affordable housing program

Coppage and his colleagues were notified on March 2 that their prior employment terms would cease, including wages, benefits, hours, work rules and conditions.

“All I can say is that it’s hell working in the building now that you have to depend on these wages to feed your family,” said Coppage, who has worked for the complex for 37 years.

Employees say management also instated a six-day work week, follow employees around on the job and order them to work faster, threaten to write them up and threaten to fire them if workers don't oblige. 

“They’re saying things like, ‘Why don’t you quit?’ or that we’re not going to make it through their 90-day period,” said superintendent Willie Hill, who worries about how he'll support his four kids, all of whom are under the age of 7.

Vertices and Bushburg did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But under the terms of the employment document that management sent employees, staffers are currently under a three-month trial period.

After that time, the management company “will likely not retain all employees currently employed by Fulton Park," according to the document shared with DNAinfo.

"We anticipate that we may modify or eliminate certain job classifications,” the document continues.

Vertices LLC, which is currently not in contract with SEIU 32BJ, has been “very clear and adamant” that they are unwilling to bargain with the union, officials said. However, the union’s former agreement with Fulton Park doesn’t expire for another three years, according to Kyle Bragg, Secretary-Treasurer of 32BJ’s Residential Division.

Management is legally within its rights to reduce wages, Bragg added. But the alleged intimidation of employees and harsh working conditions are an effort to discourage union workers from staying on the job. 

“If new owners feel like this will make them just walk away, what they’re doing is wrong,” Bragg said. “It’s pretty clear to us that this is unfair.”