TRINITY Church Buildings' Supers Stick Together
"I thought a union was supposed to stand up for its members," a Valcarcel supporter says.
"Why should someone wrongfully removed interview for another post?"
[Black Star Investigation]
They are sometimes referred to as "supers." They are the engineers who keep Manhattan's thousands of buildings functioning in the manner in which millions of City's dwellers have become accustomed.
They also stick up for one another as the case of one building engineer, Prince Valcarcel shows. These supers also say at a time when unions are getting decimated from politicians from the Right, this is the time when dues-paying members should be entitled to support from their locals.
On June 22, 2009, Valcarcel was unfairly terminated by his boss, Vinny Petta, Director of Engineering, who claimed that the building's owners' Trinity Church, had asked for a one man "reduction in force" Valcarcel's supporters say.
Petta asked Valcarcel to pack his belongings and leave the building, The Black Star News has learned from people familiar with the matter. When Valcarcel went to his union, the union grievance representative told Valcarcel that the matter would be investigated, people familiar with the matter say.
While Trinity Church owns the building, it's operated as Trinity Real Estate, and subcontracted to First Quality Maintenance (FQM) as Managing Agent for the building's engineering unit and the janitorial services.
Valcarcel himself has declined to be interviewed for this article. The union said it would take the matter to arbitration hearing, say the other employees familiar with the matter and are supporting Valcarcel's fight to get his job back.
A Step II hearing was scheduled and a union official never appeared, the employees say. The next day, another union representative called Valcarcel at home and apologized for not going to the hearing and again promised an arbitration hearing.
In November 2009, nearly six months after the alleged "reduction" in force, a Step II hearing was held in which Valcarcel was asked to resubmit his complaint to the union.
The Valcarcel supporters say nothing was done until February 2010 when Valcarcel was handed a letter by the union from Vinny Petta, signed by Peter St. John from Trinity Real Estate--the letter claimed that the route had been reformed and what's more, Valcarcel was no longer allowed to return to the Trinity properties.
"I have been a member of the union for 25 years and I've never seen or heard of something like this," says Antonio Lanzarotta, who is an Engineer and works for Trinity Church Properties and is familiar with Valcaral's case.
Lanzarrotta was one of the employees who is willing to speak, saying his desire is to improve conditions for all employees and for the company as well. "I know this is why we pay union dues and have binding agreements," he added. "You cannot just come to the building and take out a union member like that, giving the reason that they gave, which was that they were losing tenants in the building. What has that got to do with Valcarcel, a union member?"
One glaring question say current employees supporting Valcarcel, is why was there no bargaining procedure on behalf of Valcarcel? Why was he the only Engineer targeted for the alleged "reduction" in work force?
Valcarcel was sent to the building at 100 Avenue of the Americas, which is owned by Trinity and was managed by FQM, because the company needed an Engineer in the building. He was the one who fixed the radiators, the light fixtures and other malfunctioning fixtures, other employees familiar with the matter say.
People who knew him say he was good in trouble shooting the equipments, which is the real job of an Engineer. Valcarcel headed the night route, and trained two employees that were working with him in the route. After he made an impression on the company, he was sent to the building as the Engineer. "Is this the way you pay back someone that has put his time and effort to contribute in making the tenants happy?" said another employee familiar with Valcarcel's work.
Valcarcel has received support from the rank and file and several union members have expressed their displeasure and are willing to speak about the case, although all would prefer that the matter be settled and Valcarcel's job restored. A few have expressed fear of retaliation.
In fact, six months after the alleged "reduction" in work force the same position was posted and a replacement hired for Valcarel--new hirings and promotions were also done in the engineering division.
"There are several things that are happening, that are pure violations of the Binding Agreement," Lanzarotta said, referring to protections a union is supposed to guaranty its members. "But who will dare to speak up? That is why I too am now a target," he added.
"For example in my building where I work, a foreman position was established and filled without posting the newly created position," Lanzarotta added. "When I complained about it, I was targeted and several attempts were made to get me out."
Lanzarotta says there were several subsequent retaliatory actions. "I was suspended indefinitely for an issue related to a key. Four days later I was called at home and reinstated. My experience with my union rep and management is something you will never imagine. Therefore I do understand what Prince has gone through and what he is still going through. I am still at my job but still fighting for my survival."
"This has to stop and I know the people that can only stop this are the owners--Trinity Church. This is a church property, a non- profit making organization and you feel good working for them because you know you are going to be treated fairly, whether you are union member or not," Lanzarotta continued.
"I and others are calling on the owners, Trinity Church, my union President Mike Fishman and whoever is involved to do the right thing. This is a shame." Employees familiar with Valcarcel's ordeal are asking several questions: Is this a union abuse of power or is it a misguided step by some individual's that are bent on fulfilling their own agenda?
Is it retaliation for informing FQM, the management company, about questionable activities by some employees that were brought to Church executives' attention? Is it in fact true, that Trinity Church requested a one man "reduction in force" at 100 Avenue of the Americas on June 22, 2009, because the church was experiencing financial challenges arising from tenant departures from the building? A Trinity spokesperson, Linda Hanick did not respond to specific questions sent by this newspaper.
Other questions raised by the supers who support Valcarcel are: Why would the most competent Engineer, who actually had trained the others, be the one to be terminated? One person also wondered whether the alleged "reduction" in work force would have occurred had then Vice President of FQM, handling the Trinity portfolio of properties, John Coleman, not been replaced by a new executive, Colleen McDonald.
Trinity's top executives did not respond to a telephone request for interviews from The Black Star News. The Trinity spokesperson, Hanick did not make the executives available for an interview and referred inquiries to a public relations firm for FQM.
Matthew Nerzig, a union spokesperson told The Black Star News that, on the contrary, local 32BJ worked hard to get Valcarcel a new post in another FQM property and in fact secured a position he could have interviewed for but that he did not cooperate.
"Interview for a new post? Why should someone wrongfully removed interview for another post?" a Valcarcel supporter says. "I thought a union was supposed to stand up for its members. The issue is not about finding Valcarcel a new job," says the supporter.
"The issue is about the union not standing up for a dues-paying member and saying Trinity Real Estate requested a one-man reduction in force. There is no evidence it did. Even if it did there was no due process and Trinity would have violated the collective bargaining agreement and Valcarcel should have been reinstated or taken to arbitration. They were trying to silence him from speaking on some issue many of us will be willing to talk about."
Other Valcarcel supporters said there were other employees who had been legally fired and still taken for arbitration.
To Be Continued.....
"Speaking Truth To Empower."