Maintenance workers at the apartment complex Flatbush Gardens spent a second day on the picket line after being locked out of their jobs. The workers, who are represented by the union 32BJ, rejected an offer by their employer Renaissance Equity Holdings that would have slashed their wages by more than 30%. Eyewitnesses reported garbage piling up outside the apartment complex as the 10,000 residents scramble to carry out tasks previously handled by the workers.
The lockout began on Monday morning. During an interview with Examiner.com, Kwame Patterson, a representative for 32BJ called the contract proposal “a disaster for the workers and for the community.” Patterson indicated that the proposed wage cuts were coupled with reductions in the health benefits offered to workers. The union is calling for management to remove its draconian proposal, allow the workers to return to work and return to the bargaining table.
Flatbush Gardens has received plenty of negative attention over the last few months as it was placed on a list of slumlords assembled by New York City Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio. The complex has 6,475 open code violations including 827 serious threats to public safety. A Daily News article in September 2010 revealed conditions as egregious as open sewage floating in the basement of buildings.
The reality of Flatbush Gardens contrasts sharply with the slick advertising campaign run by its owners. High-gloss pictures with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background (the complex is far from away from the bridge) feature bright smiling young couples, usually mixed race or white.
In fact, the advertising campaign is a part of a conscious attempt on the part of Renaissance Equity to displace low-income and working class residents, primarily African-American and Afro-Caribbean, from Flatbush Gardens in favor of upwardly mobile gentrifiers. This strategy has failed.
And it failed in large part because Renaissance has always operated on the cheap by avoiding significant capital improvements and refusing to properly fund maintenance.
Seriously overworked maintenance workers tried to make headway, but were left without the time and supplies to complete their tasks.
Now that the gentrifiers have failed to arrive in droves, Renaissance Equity is slipping even deeper into slumlord status. A limited number of scab workers have been brought in to replace the 32BJ workers. Patterson reported that the scabs lack the necessary skills to carry out the maintenance work.
Residents seem to be supporting the picket lines of the unionized workers. Patterson explained this support by the fact that many of the workers have been employed for decades and many live in the complex. Reports are that the residents have refused to admit replacement workers into their apartments. “There’s a trust factor,” Paterson related.
One former resident agrees with this assessment. Ida Aarons explained, “The workers that came to my apartment were really nice. After one visit they were always looking after you.”
On day two, the outline of a long-term struggle is being drawn. On the one side are the workers and the 10,000 residents desperately in need of their services and, on the other, a realty company that has climbed the ranks of the slumlord list. This East Brooklyn neighborhood is quickly turning into the latest site of the increasingly contentious squabble between organized labor and the real estate sector.
Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and the editor of the Socialist WebZine. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and the Monthly Review Zine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Become a FAN on Facebook.