March 24, 2015 By Michael Florio
Workers at a new high-rise residential building were surprised when they opened their paychecks at the end of last week—and discovered they got a big raise.
Several employees who work at the Packard Square complexes, a series of buildings located by Crescent and 24th Streets, have been fighting for higher wages and the right to unionize for months.
The workers, with the support of Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and a local union leader, spoke out against their employer Ciampa Organization at the monthly Community Board 1 meeting last week.
They said that that Ciampa was failing to comply with the agreement it struck when it was approved for a 421a tax abatement, which essentially gave the company a $7 million tax break.
The developer, as a result of the abatement, is required to pay workers a prevailing wage of $17.58 per hour, as well as benefits such as affordable health care, said Rachel Cohen, the communications manager for 32BJ, a service employees international union.
However, Cohen said that the workers were being paid minimum wage, $8.75 an hour, with no health benefits.
“If the developers are getting multi-million dollar tax breaks, at the very least they should be paying good wages,” Van Bramer said at the board meeting. “They should make sure their workers have the benefits that everyone needs.”
Jonathan Par, a doorman who has worked for minimum wage at the Packard Building North, spoke at the community board meeting and claimed that the way the workers were treated was unfair.
“I want to go to school, but I cannot afford it,” he said.
Just days after the community board meeting, the workers received word that they would be getting a raise. They were not told how much—but when they opened their pay packages they noticed it had been increased to $17.58 per hour.
“This is a huge boost for these workers,” Cohen said. “Doubling their wages will change their lives.”
The $17.58 is the introductory rate for new workers, which jumps to $21.98 after 30 months of employment. Cohen said that the 30-month clock begins once an employee is hired.
Despite the raise, workers are still fighting for back pay, arguing that Ciampa owes them lost wages, which they should have been paid from the beginning, Cohen said.
She added that the workers want to unionize and have reached out to join 32BJ.
Ciampa did not respond to calls for comment.
There are three Packard Square buildings comprised of 315 units and 16 workers. Most of the workers are supporting the campaign for to join the union, Cohen said.
Cohen said that two workers who had been leading the campaign, Kevin and Andre Galarza, were fired in January, which they believe was due to their efforts to unionize. The two filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in February.
“We believe they were unjustly let go,” Van Bramer said.
The workers will continue to fight to get these two workers reinstated, Cohen said.
Ciampa is in the process of adding another building—its fourth–to Packard Square.
Cohen and the workers are urging Community Board 1 to oppose Ciampa’s application for a 421-a tax abatement concerning that building unless it treats its workers more fairly.
The fourth building, according to department of buildings records, will be 10 stories and contains 126 units and be located at 41-29 24th Street.