As "Greed" Scandal Tears Trinity, Employees Say Contractor, FQM, And 32BJ Union Are Heartless
A unionized worker was re-assigned to a heavy-lifting after having open heart surgery. "Are they trying to kill me?" said the employee, Keith Cumming,
[State of The Union]
Several more 32BJ union members, including many who work at Trinity Church-owned buildings have stepped forward to complain about FQM/Alliance the contractor that handles the portfolio alleging abusive practices.
They also complain that their union Local 32BJ has been "asleep behind the wheels" as one worker says.
These employees' fight for justice comes at a time when Trinity Church has been rocked with a major scandal, with several media accounts of alleged excessive and questionable spending by its CEO and Rector Rev. James Cooper who was referred to as "greedy" by critics in media accounts. Cooper has been in charge since 2004. According to media accounts, his 2010 compensation was $1.3 million. He's also reportedly demanded a townhouse of $5.5 million. "This is crazy," says an employee at a Trinity building. "He's living like royalty while employees are wrongfully fired and left destitute."
Cooper has taken no action to resolve the grievances by employees at Trinity's properties. At the same time, Jason Pizer, the President of Trinity Real Estate, which handles the church's properties has in the past not responded to inquiries by The Black Star News.
Amidst this confusion, employees of Trinity-owned buildings say the distraction means FQM/Alliance, the Trinity buildings' manager is neglecting the woes faced by employees, compounding the turmoil. At the same time the union has failed to step up, they say.
In one of the most egregious cases, a unionized worker was re-assigned by FQM/Alliance to a post that required heavy-lifting soon after he returned to work after having open heart surgery. "Are they trying to kill me?" said the employee, Keith Cumming, who contends the company has been trying to fire him for five years now.
"We continue to call on managers and leaders at Trinity Real Estate and Trinity church to stop this on-going abuse with cover ups and create the redemption we are awaiting for," says Prince Valcarcel, who has been fighting to regain his job for two years. Valcarcel and colleagues who support him, says he was wrongfully locked out of his work place by a former manager who didn't like Black employees. That manager, according to several employees in Trinity-owned buildings had briefly returned to work on Trinity buildings in a program to replace old light bulbs with LEDs.
The workers have no confidence both in their union 32BJ and in FQM/Alliance the company that handles Trinity's portfolio. Valcarcel, together with two unionized workers, Antonio Lanzarotta and Melvin Munoz, have been fighting for justice over the past year. In recent weeks, six additional 32BJ members have contacted The Black Star News about their own grievances at work and how the union has failed to stand up for them.
"We welcome other unionized workers who are now also standing up for their rights," Valcarcel says, the locked-out employee says. "We are still calling on senior managers at the Trinity Real Estate and Owners of Trinity Church to bring this mayhem to an end." Valcarcel has been without a paycheck for over two years, he says.
Cumming, the unionized worker assigned heavy lifting after his operation says FQM/Alliance has been "on my case" since 2007. He claims he was moved from his post at 200 Hudson to 100 Avenue of the Americas because the portfolio manager wanted to "make room" for relatives of some executives. "I went to the union and filed a grievance," he says. "Since then, things got worse. They came at me much harder and the union did nothing."
He said they couldn't find anything to get rid of him; finally, he says, FQM/Alliance told him, through his night supervisor to get a stress test to see if he was fit for the job. "I passed the test, but then they never brought me back to 200 Hudson," Cumming says. "They took me from 100 Avenue of the Americas to 350 Hudson."
Cumming says he was "black listed" like Valcarcel, Lanzarotta and Munoz. "The Black employees suffer the most even though the buildings are owned by a church institution," Cumming said. "I spent sleepless nights thinking about my job and how they were trying to get rid of me. In 2010, I got a heart attack and eventually surgery. After the surgery they never wanted me to come back to work. They were going to use that to get me out."
Cumming says he had to produce five clearance letters from five different doctors before he was allowed back to work. On another occasion, Cumming says he traveled to Jamaica, and was delayed in returning to work. He says even though his wife called FQM/Alliance's office and explained the reason for the one week delay, the company tried to pretend there had been no call and tried to terminate him again. "They suspend me for two months without pay for no-call no-show, when in fact my wife called to report my ill health," he says. "They move me around from one building to another, while they protect and cover-up for janitors and engineers that have internal connections."
It was upon his return that the heavy-lifting was assigned, he says. "Maybe this was the best way to get rid of me," Cumming says. Ironically, Tony Colazzo, the manager for the Janitorial Services at FQM/Alliance used to work with Cumming as a janitor at the World Trade Center many years ago, before the 9/11 attacks.
In dealing with 32BJ and FQM/Alliance, Cumming is learning what Valcarcel, Lanzarotta and Munoz, say they've been fighting for years now. The union, rather than advocating for its dues-paying members, seems to work in league with employers, at least in the case of FQM/Alliance, these employees contend.
As previously reported by The Black Star News, Lanzarotta says he continues to face retaliation since reporting favoritism at his building. After he first spoke out on behalf of other employees years ago, Lanzarotta was summarily fired. When the union refused to help him, even though he's a dues-paying member, he hired a private attorney and was soon re-instated.
As part of an eventual settlement involving the National Labor Review Board (NLRB), a ruling was issued barring the employer from retaliation. What's more, employees were given the right to communicate their grievances directly to top management and to speak to media. Lanzarotta has spent $50,000 of his own money when the union abandoned him, he says. "I am trying to protect myself and my family from the onslaught of FQM/Alliance Building Services," he says.
Lanzarotta says on February 27, Colleen McDonald, manager of FQM/Trinity Accounts, and Steven Marcinak, Assistant Director of engineering FQM ordered him not to copy Lou Cerefice and Peter St. John, Trinity portfolio managers on any e-mail messages that he sends to Christian Gonzales, the manager of his building.
"Colleen said Lou Cerefice instructed her to tell me to prepare complete review of all activities that happen in my building everyday and submit it to Gonzales and copy FQM/Alliance Building Services," Lanzarotta explains. "But that he, Lou Cerefice, should not be copied on this e-mail. This sounds funny." Lanzarotta wonders why Cerefice would ask not to be copied if he indeed wanted to be kept informed.
Even though the NLRB deal gave employees the right to speak to media, Lanzarotta says he was recently grilled by management at the building where he works. He recalls how Colleen McDonald came to 200 Hudson, where he works, after he was quoted in a Black star News article that dealt with how Prince Valcarcel, a co-worker, had been wrongfully barred from the building where he worked, 100 Avenue of the Americas, for over two years now. Valcarcel had been ejected from the building by a manager, Vinny Petta, who is said not to have liked Black employees. He never received even a termination letter.
"I had no choice but to give that interview, since many engineers and janitors came to me expressing their displeasure about what happened to Valcarcel but are afraid to come out openly and say it," Lanzarotta recalls, of being summoned before McDonald and Mark Torello.
"Colleen said 'Antonio you have to understand what is going on; do you understand?' She was waving a copy of The Black Star News at me. She said 'I will not leave your office until you understand what is going on.' We sat there for five minutes, then I said 'Yes, I understand.' As far as I was concerned the truth was now coming out. She then turn to Mark Torello and said 'He understands and now we can go.'"
He recalls that when he first met McDonald as Manager for the FQM/Trinity Accounts, she describe herself as a fighter. "'I am a fighter and I love to fight,'" Lanzarotta recalls her saying. "Now I know what she meant."
"Since that day, I have been torn apart," Lanzarotta adds. "Does she want me to turn a blind eye when a co-worker of African descent is abused? Is it because I am off Italian descent? All what I did was to stand up for what is right as the Catholic church teaches me; that we are all created equal whether you are Black or White. That we should all be accepted for who we are and given equal opportunity to improve our lives. Is this why I am continuously retaliated upon?"
Melvin Munoz, who also continues to fight for justice, is owed more than $100,000 in back-pay, having been underpaid for over two years. The Black Star News has reviewed a copy of the agreement he signed with his employer and 32BJ promising to pay him money owed. FQM/Alliance and 32BJ have simply ignored the signed deal, Munoz, who is exploring legal action, says.
Other employees who spoke with this newspaper say they became skeptical when they saw Vinny Petta, who had reportedly been fired after the incident involving Valcarcel, back in one of the Trinity buildings. He was supervising a project to switch the buildings' lighting from regular bulbs to LED.
"Was there bidding for this project? Was it competitive? How much will it cost Trinity? Why is Petta back in the picture? These are the questions whose answers would help Trinity make a wise decision on their investment," said another employee who asked that his name not be used for this article.
The employee challenges the veracity of a subsequent Trinity memo which in part stated: "The LED Project is a great success. It is such a great success that we have decided to extend it into other areas in the Trinity buildings."
Another employee wonders whether the contract was some sort of deal with Vinny Petta. "How much was spent on this project? Who pays for the project at the end of the day? Is it Con Edison, or New York City through reimbursements under the 'going green' programs?" the employee wonders.
"Was this project a success because of a job well done, or was it a success because FQM/Alliance was able to bring Vinny Petta back into the Trinity Portfolio through the back door? Vinny Petta was fired by Trinity Real Estate. This was confirmed by Colleen McDonald in a memo to employees about two days after he was fired. About a week later, McDonald sent another memo contradicting the first one, saying that Vinny Petta had been transferred to a senior position in the main office of FQM/Alliance Building as Manager for the Electrical department."
As a result, Petta gained access to the Trinity buildings and contracts for all electrical work mainly done on overtime, according to one source, who adds that Petta is no longer involved with the project. The Black Star News had previously reported on this project.
Even though Petta has not been seen recently in the Trinity-owned buildings, employees still want more information about the LED program. "We want to know that this LED program was above board and that Trinity was not being taken advantage of," says the employee. "We want answers about this contract and the working relationship between Vinny Petta, MAS Electrical, FQM/Alliance Building Maintenance and the LED Trinity Real Estate lighting Project. Was everything above board?"
"You do the math," the employee adds. "Vinny Petta is fired by Trinity. Then he's back in the picture with LED Trinity lighting project plus MAS Electrical. Then we had the LED Trinity lighting Project and a so-called 'great success.' We were not born yesterday."
"Instead of FQM/Alliance Building Services fixing the problem with Lanzarotta, Munoz and Valcarcel; whether it was a mistake or intentional, they continue to cover up and intimidate workers, with the help of some Trinity Managers and the Union Local 32BJ that is supposed to protect dues-paying members," this employee continues.
32BJ union members say Tony Colazzo, an FQM executive, and Micheal Rodriguez, who is now part-owner and President FQM/Alliance all used to be janitors at The Wall Trade Center at the same time as Sam Delany and Tim McGrath; today, Delany is the Grievance representative at 32BJ, and McGrath is now the delegate representative at 32BJ.
"So do you think it's a coincidence that the Union has been siding with FQM?" says the employee. "Is it a coincidence that Valcarcel is still locked out; Lanzarotta is still retaliated against; and they are laughing at Munoz's face even after they signed an agreement to pay him the $100,000 owed?"
In addition to Cumming, the four additional SEIU Local 32BJ members who approached The Black Star News are Shafeeq Asad; Ivery Hill; Juan Ortiz; and, Glenn Morgan. Their accounts will be discussed in more detail in subsequent issues of this newspaper. Shafeeq Asad, one of the five employees, worked at 340 Madison Avenue, for about 2 1/2 years.
Also, he was assigned foreman/night manager for 340 Madison and since he was a paid shop Stewart for the union, he approached the building manager for his entire night crew about rotating the overtime on weekends for all of his crew as well as himself; he was denied. "I ended up in 340 Madison because I worked as a foreman/shop Stewart in 19 West 44th street and the building manager put her nephew in the building and he wouldn't do his work and did other unruly activities," Asad explains. "Once I revealed what this guy was doing, the building manager had her protege assigned to 19 West 44th and they got me out and transferred me to 340 Madison."
On both buildings, F.Q.M. was the contractual consultant. Asad was eventually told several different conflicting reasons for his termination, from "insubordination" to the manager saying he was "belligerent." Asad says, "None of them were true or proven."
Asad and his colleagues have filed a lawsuit against FQM/Alliance and S.L. Green Realty in State Supreme Court. "We have been following the articles in The Black Star News and it sounds very familiar to us," he says, of Lanzarotta's, and Munoz's, and Valcarcel's experiences. "We share their pain."
Rodriguez, President of FQM/Alliance did not respond to an e-mail message.
FQM was founded in 1992, by Gary Green. He is the son of Stephen L. Green, Chairman of SL Green Realty Corp., New York City's largest office landlord; and he's also the nephew of former mayoral hopeful Mark Green. FQM employs more than 15,000 workers.
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