IN TRINITY WE TRUST? Employees Still Fighting For Justice
The ordeals of Lanzarotta, Munoz and Valcarcel have been covered by BSN. Valcarcel has been unfairly blocked from his workplace for more than two years now, with no pay.
[New State of Unions]
Trinity Employees Say 'Where's The Blessing?'
A new year rolls in.
Yet several 32BJ union members who work for Trinity Church Real Estate and who've been fighting either for re-instatement, back-pay, or an end to retaliation, say it's same ole-same ole.
The employees say they are still seeking justice, with no resolution in sight. More unionized workers are also backing these employees in their struggle.
More workers have contacted The Black Star News and their stories will be documented in this newspaper in a series of articles over the next few weeks.
"People just celebrated Christmas, the symbol of joy, hope, justice and miracle," says Prince Valcarcel, one of the three original employees, whose cases have been covered by this newspaper. "The gift we were waiting for from Trinity Church, owners of Trinity Real Estate, was never delivered."
In addition to Valcarcel, the other two employees whose ordeal have been covered by this newspaper are Antonio Lanzarotta and Melvin Munoz. They too are engineers within Trinity Real Estate's portfolio of buildings. Valcarcel's supporters say he's been unfairly blocked from his workplace for more than two years now, with no pay.
Another engineer at a Trinity-owned building says: "There is injustice, retaliation and favoritism," at his work place. "We all know what they did to Valcarcel is wrong and that they had tried to cover it by coming up with all types of changes in the buildings, using workers that are close to them," he says.
Other engineers and janitors say they are planning a demonstration to show their support for the three employees and to air their own grievances. "We will come out very soon in one massive protest," one janitor says. "This is not the Trinity Church we know."
Several employees complained about work they say was mysteriously awarded to a non-unionized outside company; this issue was previously covered by this newspaper. The out-sourced work was switching old light bulbs in several buildings to LED. The work was awarded to a company that uses non-unionized workers, MAS Electrical, they say. A former Trinity building manager who was fired, Vinny Petta, works for MAS and the unionized employees wonder whether someone steered the business to this non-unionized outside company.
These employees also blame Petta for Valcarcel's dismissal. "So someone who was fired like Petta could now enter the building to do work while someone like Valcarcel cannot enter? What an irony," observed a long-time employee, a janitor. "This is a shame. Why is FQM protected to such an extent by Trinity and Local 32BJ making it look like they are aiding and abetting these actions?"
FQM manages the portfolio of buildings for Trinity.
What's more, this employee says, many of the executives seem to have forgotten their humble beginnings: "Peter St. John, the Trinity manager supervising FQM and security, was a Janitor during those days when his dad was a Trinity manager. We used to do a lot of things together. I am still a Janitor and he is now a Manager. God bless him. No one treated him or us the way he is now treating little guys."
"We were treated with respect and Christian love by Trinity management," he added. "I do not know what qualifications he has. Maybe he got to that position by experience, or by Trinity awarding him for longtime service. I wonder why Peter does not resolve Lanzarotta's, Munoz's and Valcarcel's cases knowing how Peter and his family struggled to overcome discrimination when they came to the United States."
Trinity recently added Lou Cerefice, a property manager within the portfolio to lower-level management; Cerefice has a reputation for fighting corruption in the past, the janitor says.
"Will this make a difference? It is too early to say. In 2008 as property manager, Cerefice was the one that brought justice to the Trinity Buildings by taking out the most corrupt tyrant in the Buildings. He saw the corruption, favoritism, abuse and cover-ups and he brought it to an end. This was good for all of us. Can he end this dilemma, and does he have the support to do it this time? I do not know, but I will say to Lanzarotta, Munoz and Valcarcel hang in there. We will join you guys sooner than later."
Meanwhile, Lanzarotta, Munoz and Valcarcel continue their fight for justice.
"Since I openly support the movement against injustice, I have been continuously retaliated upon," Lanzarotta says. "I continue to complain but no one listens. I do not know what to do. I continue to look up to the owners for support. We do not know if we are gaining sympathy or looking like the bad guys. Nobody wants to talk openly about the continued retaliation in this place. We do not even know who is helping us any more. But we still have faith in the church and the few managers that stands for truth and justice. The question is when are they going to bring this mayhem to an end? I have already spent $50,000 in attorney fees to protect myself and my family that depends on my income."
Lanzarotta recalled how on July 5, 2011 he was prevented from entering his work building by the security guard who had his photo at the check point together with a memo instructing that he denied entry, from the building manager Christian Gonzales.
"In September 2011, I was summoned to the FQM/Trinity office where I was interrogated, reprimanded and directed not to communicate with any other Trinity Manager except with permission from Colleen McDonalds or Mark Torello," Lanzarotta added. McDonalds and Torello are senior executives.
"I was told my communications should be limited to the Building Manager," he added. "This was followed by a memo from the Building Manger himself Christian Gonzalez. Throughout all of these problems, Union Local 32BJ stood by and did not fight on behalf of a dues-paying member."
Munoz, who has also been fighting for justice, also weighed in, saying: “I never knew Valcarcel would still be out there still fighting for his job, nor did I know I would still be fighting for my Engineers back pay. It is absurd that FQM claims that according to their records, they do not have to give me any money. In October 2011, in a meeting with Robert Abreu Executive Vice President FQM/Alliance Building and Mark Torello Director of Engineering FQM/Alliance Building without any 32BJ Union representative, Abreu told me that their record shows that FQM does not have to pay me any back pay. He said that is the end of the story. Even though this agreement was made by 32BJ on my behalf, 32BJ was never there to defend my case or to explain to me why FQM does not have to pay me any money despite their own letter demanding that they pay me backpay."
This newspaper has reviewed a copy of the agreement, in which Munoz is indeed promised his backpay differential. FQM and Trinity have not honored the signed agreement and the union has taken no action.
"I was left on my own," Munoz added, noting that he felt betrayed. "Is this how 32BJ fights and protect their members? Is this why we have a union, and is this why a union negotiates on our behalf? Can someone give me an explanation what has happened to my dues and why we pay dues? I am not going to stop until I get my money and we put an end to retaliation in the portfolio."
Valcarcel himself says he's now been barred from his workplace for two and a half years.
"I am still waiting for my job even though the union said by me going down to protest I got someone way at the top of Trinity upset," he says. "But what did they want me to do? Should I just stand by and watch the injustice and cover-up continue while my family and myself is prevented from enjoying the same opportunity that is given to all employees at Trinity Real Estate?"
Valcarcel notes that Trinity church has a reputation for acting humanely and wonders why his plight has not been addressed. "The church is the owner and all what I did was to plead to the church to stop the abuse and injustice," he continues. "In June 2009, when I was wrongfully locked out from 100 Avenue of the Americas supposedly because a one-man reduction in force was requested by Trinity, I brought the matter to the notice of the church through Frank Lynch former Director of Facilities attached to the CEO's office at 74 Trinity Place. I was promised that the matter would be resolved. What happened next is that he was fired, leaving the problem unresolved. Since then no one has shown interest in resolving the issue."
"I am surprised that the union is not saying anything about the Engineers back pay that Munoz is owed," he adds. "When, in fact, the union told me in February 2010 that Trinity and FQM agreed to pay the engineers' back pay including the difference from my unemployment checks which amount to six months of unemployment, if I accept their offer not to comeback to the Trinity Portfolio. I am very confused. You don’t know who is telling the truth; whether it is the union that does not want me to comeback or it is Trinity who is refusing to bring me back."
Valcarcel concludes, "When the union needed money for supporting politics in January 2009, they came to my building and solicited. I made a contribution to their political fund because I believed the union would fight for me when I needed their support. A union is supposed to fight for the right of small guys like me. I contributed $2.00 of my paycheck every week but when I was unjustly terminated or laid off, the union was not there, and no one in the union came to the building to inform me of the supposed layoff and they claimed that they knew about it and gave FQM the go- ahead. This is contrary to what I was told in 2009 when I brought the matter to the union. Instead, in a meeting with Hector Figueroa the 32BJ Secretary/Treasurer in September 2011, he told me that, 'Why should you be given special treatment?' I am not asking for special treatment. I am asking for justice since I was wrongfully terminated or laid off as was claimed. This is my story."
When The Black Star News contacted Local 32BJ in the past, the union claimed that it had done all that it could on behalf of the employees featured in this newspaper. However, documents reviewed, including Munoz's agreement for backpay, suggests otherwise.
Both FQM and Trinity in the past have declined to make senior officials available for an interview.
"Speaking Truth To Empower."