Abandoned By Their Union 32BJ: President Mike Fishman: Do The Right Thing!

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Coming from a union which takes pride and boasts --at least officially-- about fighting on behalf of all its employees,
the majority of whom are Black and Latino, I find such desparaging remarks shocking and disappointing. It's unwise to judge a newspaper by its "color."

[Open Letter]

'Black Star News Is Not New York Times' Union Official Reported to Say


Dear Mike Fishman.

I'm writing to you in the hope that you'll do the right thing by three 32BJ members who have approached this newspaper for help after they say their appeals to union officials fell on deaf ears.

We have published a number of articles in our newspaper and on our website about these union members' cases, involving, variously, alleged wrongful termination, underpayment of wages, and retaliation by their employer First Quality Maintenance (FQM).

Through the good offices of former deputy mayor Bill Lynch, a great gentleman and owner of the firm Bill Lynch & Associates, I subsequently met on June 30, 2011 with 32BJ union leaders Hector Figueroa, Secretary-Treasurer, and Kyle Bragg, VP director, residential division, NY Metro District, to discuss the cases we had featured in a number of articles in The Black Star News and on blackstarnews.com.

Mr. Lynch, one of New York's few remaining gentlemen, arranged the meeting at 32BJ's offices. Mr. Figueroa outlined many of the stellar work the union is engaged in: such as contract negotiations for its members, and; the hard work it takes to ensure that the gains already made on behalf of members aren't lost in the current anti-union political environment. I informed him that my newspaper would be very happy to cover these efforts.

We discussed the cases of the three union members whose stories we had published in The Black Star News. We agreed that I would send Mr. Figueroa a follow up letter regarding the cases. I sent the follow up letter on July 14 via email message and also copied both Mr. Bragg and Mr. Lynch. To date, I have not received a response from Figueroa.

I understand however that union officials invited the three union members whose cases we had publicized, messrs Antonio Lanzarotta, Melvin Munoz and Prince Valcarcel, for meetings. Messrs Lanzarotta, Munoz and Valcarcel report that after the meeting on August 12, union officials Shirley Aldebol and Eyad Asad told these members that 32BJ would not be able to do anything on their behalf.

President Fishman, considering that the serious allegations we wrote about in The Black Star News were never refuted by
union officials, including 32BJ spokesman Matt Nerzig, whom I dealt with while working on the articles, this is troubling.
Moreover, it now appears that union officials have not taken the allegations seriously since it was published in The Black Star News, an African American-oriented investigative newspaper. In fact, messrs Lanzarotta, Munoz and Valcarcel report that Aldebol and Eyad specifically told them that union officials didn't feel compelled to do anything since The Black Star News doesn't have the circulation of The New York Times.

Coming from a union which takes pride and boasts --at least officially-- about fighting on behalf of all its employees,
the majority of whom are Black and Latino, I find such desparaging remarks shocking and disappointing. It's unwise to judge a newspaper by its "color."

For the record, a simple Google search might enlighten Aldebol and Eyad. It was The Black Star News that broke the story about a scandal at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in 2001 that was subsequently featured in The Wall Street Journal and on CNN and led to the dismissal of two senior lawyers at Morgan Stanley and the filing of a $1.5 billion lawsuit against the firm. Both The Journal and CNN credited The Black Star with the scoop and profiled the publisher.

It was also The Black Star News that broke the news about a famous Holocaust survivors' attorney, Ed Fagan, who was stealing money from his Holocaust survivor clients, leading to his disbarment in 2009--again this expose was widely reported on other media outlets and television. In one case, Fagan won a $500,00 award for Holocaust survivor Estelle Sapir, who was in her 80s; he didn't give her a dime and kept the money when she died.

Only recently, we exclusively reported the case of a man who mysteriously died, while he was fighting mortgage corruption that deprived him of his residential property, allegedly involving a State Supreme Court judge in Queens and some banks.

These are just three of several dozen examples of stories we scooped the Times on, Mr. Fishman.

So, you will have to excuse me if I'm jumping to conclusions: given the dismissive attitude of Aldebol and Eyad, I now understand why I may have never received a response to my letter of July 14 from Mr. Figueroa, even though I extended him the courtesy of meeting with him through the gracious efforts of Mr. Lynch, a fine gentleman. I now take this opportunity, through this open letter, to bring to your attention the cases of messrs Lanzarotta, Munoz and Valcarcel.

And even though we are "not The New York Times" I hope you will treat their issues seriously, as I'm sure you agree that they each deserve all the rights and protections that their membership in 32BJ entitles them to.

Here are summaries:
Mr. Antonio Lanzarotta works as an engineer at a First Quality Maintenance (FQM) operated and Trinity church -owned building. He was terminated after he brought complaints of retaliation partly because he reported some illegal activities at the work place to Trinity. When 32BJ declined to pursue his case alleging retaliation by FQM, he hired a private lawyer at his own expense. An agreement was signed with his employer First Quality Maintenance (FQM) for him to be repaid the money lost as a result of the 4 days work he missed.

After he returned to work, even though the agreement called for him to receive payment by March 15, 2011, he was not paid for several weeks until May--He only received his check after The Black Star News called the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Additionally, even though the agreement also mandated that Lanzarotta and other FQM employees had the right to report any complaints --including to media-- he reports continued acts of retaliation. For example, on July 5th, 2011, when he reported to work he was prevented by the building's security officer who had a
photo of Lanzarotta with him and a memo stating that he be barred from the building.

Lanzarotta was told the instructions came from the property manager, Christian Gonzalez, who works directly for Trinity. As a result Lanzarotta missed one day of work. He was later assured by a union official that 32BJ "knew nothing" about the incident and he was told he would not lose pay. Lanzarotta is concerned that these types of retaliatory actions still continue on a daily basis.

During the meeting, Aldebol and Asad also admitted to Lanzarotta that they were aware of favoritism, discrimination, and retaliation within the Trinity portfolio. Yet, instead of fighting such outrages on behalf of dues-paying members, he was still told that nothing could be done. He also questions why the union ejected him from the union building, forcing him to hire a private attorney; only to now be told that union officials are aware of the problems presented by Trinity.

Mr. Melvin Munoz, 32BJ member, had an engineer's license when he was  hired. Yet he was underpaid for more than two years. Mr. Munoz calculates that he is owed at least $100,000 to recover the difference between the engineer's rate and the lower rate he had been paid during the two years. A deal was eventually signed on January 17, 2009 involving FQM, 32BJ and Munoz, whereby FQM agreed to start paying Munoz at the engineer's salary rate as of January 1, 2009. What's more, per the agreement, he was to be repaid the monies owed.

The agreement states: "FQM shall pay Munoz any retroactive pay due to him as of January 1, 2009, within two weeks of this agreement.." Munoz has not received any of that payment and when he met with Aldebol and Eyad on August 12, he was told that the agreement was only "verbal" and that he would not receive any payment, even though The Black Star News is in possession of the written agreement.

Mr. Prince Valcarcel was "terminated" as a result of a purported  "one-man reduction in force" on June 22, 2009. Valcarcel had previously reported on some illegal activities that needed to be attended to by FQM officials. He was also the one who initiated grievance with the union about the underpayment of workers' with engineers' licenses. He initiated grievance through the union on May 21, 2008, seeking back pay --on behalf of himself and similarly situated engineers in the FQM portfolio-- for having been underpaid.

Subsequently, many employees started receiving the engineers' rate. Valcarcel believes that the action was retaliatory and that he's entitled to union protection. Valcarcel was never issued a RIF letter or termination letter. At the August 12 meeting he was informed by Aldebol that the letter was sent directly to you by FQM; this is the first time he has heard this explanation. What's more, he reports that Aldebol also stated that the FQM did not even use proper procedure in getting rid of him and that the union informed the company that "this should never happen again."

At the time of Valcarcel's 2009 dismissal, union official Donovan Cole had concluded that Valcarcel was entitled to arbitration since Trinity didn't follow the collective bargaining procedures. Cole was overruled by Jodi Goldman, the director of grievances, who agreed that while Cole was right, even if Valcarcel won his job back FQM would likely dismiss him again.

After a union rep did not show up at initial Step II hearing another one was scheduled and held in November 2009, five months after the termination. He was at 100 Avenue of the Americas and tenants there have attested to how professional and efficient he was. Six months after the reduction in work force, the same position was posted and a replacement hired for Valcarcel, when he should have been eligible for that post per collective bargaining agreement, he reports.

Additionally, Aldebol and Asad informed Valcarcel --as Goldman had in 2009-- that it was Trinity that "did not want" Valcarcel back as an employee.

Unless I'm terribly mistaken, isn't this the type of situation that collective bargaining is for; to uphold the rights of an employee from wrongful termination simply because an employer does not "want" the worker?

Valcarcel  has not had a paycheck in two years. He believes he is entitled to his job back with back pay. Since we publicized the stories of messrs Lanzarotta, Munoz, and Valcarcel other union members including Janitors within the Trinity  portfolio have come forward with various similar cases alleging inadequate representation.

As I said during my meeting with Mr. Figueroa and as I also informed him in July 14 letter to him, my newspaper --even though it's "not The New York Times"-- is eager to develop a strong working relationship with 32BJ. In this union-hostile environment it's important that any hard fought gains on behalf of members be publicized.

At the same time, I firmly believe that the matter involving messrs Lanzarotta, Munoz, and Valcarcel can be amicably resolved.

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Milton Allimadi
Publisher/Editor-in-Chief
milton@blackstarnews.com



"Speaking Truth To Empower."


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