Scott Walker's Not Only Problem For Unions: Leaders Like 32BJ's Mike Fishman Also Help Kill Support From Rank And File

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Even though 32BJ abandoned them, these workers fought together for justice across racial lines, as they try to get union to do the right thing.


[Black Star News Editorial] 
 
Since
Governor Scott Walker's spectacular victory in Wisconsin where he
overwhelmingly won a recall election by seven points many people have
wondered: are workers' Unions still a good thing? Of course
they are, especially when they play a crucial role in collective
bargaining or protect dues-paying members from abusive employers who
ignore such agreements throughout the country . Does this mean that all union leaders are good? Most
certainly not--judging by the leadership of the 120,000 membership
Local 32BJ right here in New York City when it comes to protecting the
rights of more than a dozen employees whose cases this newspaper has
dealt with. The patterns we've encountered -- in terms of the similarity
in their cases of union abandonment-- leaves no doubt that it's not an
anomaly. 

 
So, people like Governor Scott Walker are by no means
the only obstacles to employees' rights if the behavior of the union
leadership here in New York is reflective of broader ineffectiveness.   

 
Under
President Michael Fishman, Local 32BJ has been one of the most
unresponsive unions when it comes to protecting the rights of
dues-paying members. For over one year now, The Black Star News has
written a series of columns and articles about the plight of several
dues-paying 32BJ members who have been abandoned by their union.  The
most egregious cases involve four employees, who have been fighting for
justice on their own as well as on behalf of their fellow dues-paying
workers. Even though their union has basically abandoned them, these
workers have impressively stood together, across racial lines, as they
try to get 32BJ to do the right thing. They've shown the kind of
solidarity that should impress all union members. They are:
Prince Valcarcel, and Keith Cummings, both of whom are Black; Antonio
Lanzarotta, who is White; and, Melvin Nunez, who is Latino. 

 
Prince
Valcarcel, by all accounts was a good employee. He was so efficient
that he actually trained his supervisors. He was an engineer in a
building owned by Trinity Church at 100 Avenue of the Americas. The
building's operated by FQM/Alliance, a unit of SL Green Realty Corp.,
New York's largest owner of commercial office property.  

 
Valcarcel
was illegally locked out of his workplace on June 22, 2009 without any
due process, simply because a White manager who hated Black employees
ordered him one day to pack his belongings and leave soon after he had
discovered that he and many other employees were being underpaid. 

 
For
three years now, Valcarcel has never received an official termination
letter or explanation. Valcarcel even personally informed union
president Mike Fishman when he encountered him at a union-organized
event a few months ago. Fishman promised to look into his case but
nothing has happened. Valcarcel who has been without a paycheck for more
than three years now struggles to support his family through off jobs.
This is completely unconscionable. 

 
Why did FQM/Alliance, the SL
Green Realty unit lock Valcarcel out from his workplace? Before he was
barred from his building he discovered that FQM/Alliance had been
cheating many of the workers by paying them a lower wage rate even
though they had engineers' certification. 

 
It was after
Valcarcel pointed this out to his union, 32BJ and to FQM/Alliance and
Trinity Church that the retaliation started. Valcarcel was wrongfully
locked out of his place of work. 

 
Antonio Lanzarotta, a union
member for 26 years now who works at 200 Hudson Street, was also
terminated when he spoke out on behalf of Valcarcel and other
dues-paying workers. He also exposed racism at the workplace where a
manger had discouraged White employees from interacting with Black
ones. 

 
When the union refused to help Lanzarotta, he hired a
private attorney who helped him take the matter to the National Labor
Relations Board (NLRB). This led to an agreement whereby FQM/Alliance
was prohibited from any further retaliation against Lanzarotta.  

 
Lanzarotta
was restored to his post and his several days of lost wages reimbursed.
The agreement also authorized Lanzarotta and other FQM/Alliance
employees were permitted to report grievances directly to executives at
FQM/Alliance and Trinity Church. They were also permitted to speak with
members of the press without fear of retaliation.
The settlement agreement negotiated was signed off by FQM's executive vice president, Robert Abreu, on February 15, 2011.
 
FQM/Alliance
signed this agreement but the company continues to act with impunity.
As recently as April 2, 2012 he was suspended for two days again without pay in an effort to silence him from reporting continued abuses at his workplace.
The suspension letter was handed to him by Colleen McDonald, project manager/vice president at FQM/Alliance and copied to Robert Abreu, the same executive who signed the 2011 settlement agreement. This is a clear case of retaliation.

How
arrogant is FQM/Alliance? The company acknowledged that it had been
underpaying the workers with engineers certification. It signed an
agreement with one of these employees, Melvin Munoz, 32BJ, and the NLRB
on January 17, 2009 stating that "FQM shall pay Munoz any retroactive
pay due to him as of January 1, 2009, within two weeks of this
agreement.."


Munoz, who works at 1 Hudson Square, estimates that he is owed about $100,000 in addition to interest. It's
clear that FQM/Alliance had no plans to honor this agreement. Munoz has
not yet received the pay differential which was due by January 31,
2009.  

 
When this newspaper was invited to meet with several
senior union officials, including Hector Figueroa, Secretary-Treasurer
of 32BJ, these leaders promised to address these employees' issues. 

 
Later
on, these dues-paying workers were invited to meet with 32BJ leaders
and they were told that the union planned to take no action. After all,
the employees were told, The Black Star News was not The New York Times

 
So how much do 32BJ and FQM/Alliance care about the welfare of workers? 
 
Well
consider the case of Keith Cummings, a janitor and 32BJ member, who
traveled to Jamaica in October 2011. His wife called his employer to explain that his
return had been delayed from October 11 to 18, due to visa problems. The company pretended as
if it had never received the message and Cummings was fired. He fought
for his job and eventually was allowed to return. The union refused to
pay him for the three months of lost wages when he was wrongfully locked
out. 

 
(The Black Star News is reviewing the cases of several
other 32BJ members who claim that FQM/Alliance routinely suspends
employees without pay over trivial matters, in what seems to be a
strategy to save the company money). 

 
Cummings'  is fearful for his life.  
 
He
says his health has suffered due to the stress from years of mistreatment by his managers.
In 2010, Cummings had to have open heart surgery. When he eventually
returned to the job, he was re-assigned from his normal duties, to work
that now included heavy lifting.  

FQM/Alliance was aware of the
heart surgery since the company had ordered several doctors physicals
before allowing Cummings to return; he was cleared by five doctors. So why was he re-assigned to work
that included heavy lifting? "Are they trying to kill me?" Cummings
wondered in an interview. FQM/Alliance
acts with utter impunity because the company knows it has an ally in
32BJ, which has abandoned these workers and crushed their hopes for
justice. So, what about union president Mike Fishman who once promised to look into Prince Valcarcel's plight? 


32BJ's
communications department sent a press release to The Black Star News
on May 30, announcing Fishman's promotion to Executive Vice President of
32BJ’s parent body, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU),
which has 2.2 million members across the U.S. and in Canada and Puerto
Rico. 

 
“I’m honored by the trust SEIU’s member delegates have
placed in me," Fishman said, in the press release. "I will bring with me
the spirit and energy of 32BJ." 

 
This could be a problem judging by his inaction, with respect to the 32BJ employees whose' cases we've covered. 
 
We wish the members of SEIU much luck under Fishman's presidency. 
 
Clearly, it's not only Scott Walker who is causing much grief for dues-paying unionized workers. 
 

"Speaking Truth To Empower."



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