More Members Complain About Local 32BJ
Asked why Munoz had not yet received the money owed per the agreement, the union offered an incomprehensible response which contradicted the language in the agreement which acknowledged "retroactive pay" prior to January 1, 2009.
[State of The Unions]
32BJ Members Back Ousted Colleague As More Complaints Emerge
Several more Local 32BJ union members have stepped forward in support of a colleague whom they say was abandoned by the union after he was fired from his job as a super.
Additionally, the employees claim that the union has a pattern of not vigorously fighting for its dues-paying members, a contention Local 32BJ spokespersons have strongly denied. SEIU Local 32BJ represents New York City workers, including porters and buildings' engineers, typically referred to as "supers."
Some employees contend race may have also been a factor in how one employee, Prince Valcarcel, an immigrant from West Africa, was dealt with by both the union and company that terminated his employment. Valcarcel had worked at a Trinity Church-operated building managed by First Quality Maintenance (FQM).
These employees point out that even after a union official determined that Valcarcel was entitled to an arbitration hearing, he was overruled by other union bosses. Valcarcel has been without a job and paycheck for two years. As The Black Star News reported in the April 7 edition, Valcarcel, a popular super was terminated on June 22, 2009 from his job at 100 Sixth Avenue.
The church had sent a reduction-in-force request letter (RIF), FQM later told Valcarcel, after the fact, his supporters say. Valcarcel's colleagues--who still work for FQM-- believe the one-man reduction in force may have been a ruse to eject him since he had reported to Trinity church "unprofessional" activities at 100 Sixth Avenue involving some FQM employees.
Trinity officials did not return calls previously placed by The Black Star News, seeking to interview church officials.
The union, which sent a copy of the reduction in force (RIF) letter to The Black Star, denies the view that it didn't work vigorously on his behalf.
"At a time when hard working New Yorkers are losing their jobs with no recourse at all, it's hard understand why someone would reject repeated attempts to line them up with a new job," says union spokesman, Matt Nerzig. "Most workers, particularly those without a union to fall back on, would welcome such efforts, not rebuff them."
Additionally, 32BJ in a statement to The Black Star News says: All of the contractual reduction-in-force (RIF) procedures were followed."
"Prince had 6-month recall rights to 100 Sixth Avenue," the statement continues. "He was offered multiple porter and engineer job positions at other FQM locations. He declined the porter positions and failed to respond to any of the other positions offered to him."
"That's like saying Valcarcel should have just ran out and taken any job after he was unfairly dismissed," says one of his supporters. "In that case, why do we even have a union? Why do we have a collective bargaining agreement in place if the union treats it like toilet paper?"
A union grievance house representative Donovan Cole determined that Trinity didn't follow standard procedure, which violated Valcarcel's collective bargaining rights, his supporters say. At a Step II hearing the mediator concluded that the case required arbitration.
Jodi Goldman, the director of grievances at 32BJ agreed with Donovan Cole's conclusion, his supporters contend. Nevertheless, Goldman barred Valcarcel from any further correspondence with Cole, according to people familiar with the
matter. Goldman said even if Valcarcel had won his job back through arbitration, the church and FQM likely would fire him again, say people familiar with the matter.
"The collective bargaining agreement is sacrosanct, if you've been following the news nationally," says a Valcarcel supporter. "The Republicans are trying to break up unions, but it seems like the union leadership is also doing a good job by not enforcing existing rights."
Valcarcel's supporters also contrast what they contend was lack of support for him from the union, with how 32BJ treated another engineer, Bob Lorenc, who was fired from 75 Varick Street, another Trinity property, two months after Valcarcel's termination. "Lorenc, who is White, had an arbitration hearing," says a Valcarcel supporter.
Another Valcarcel supporter, Melvin Munoz, an engineer at 75 Varick Street, says Valcarcel may have been retaliated against after he fought for back pay owed by FQM to several employees, including Munoz.
Valcarcel, who had an engineer's license, discovered that he and several other employees with similar qualification were being under-paid.Valcarcel filed a grievance with the union on May 21, 2008 for the back pay and for discrimination and retaliation.
Many of his supporters contend that because he exposed the under-payment of several workers, the employer decided to teach him a lesson. "Instead of being rewarded, he was not protected by the union," a supporter says.
The union held a Step II hearing, attended by Valcarcel, Munoz, and other employees Rip Persaud and Sylvester Wojeyla, Munoz says. At the hearing, the mediator was upset because the Union rep had only mentioned the back pay, and nothing about retaliation and discrimination," Munoz recalls.
Persaud, Woyeja, and Munoz were then allowed to speak to a union lawyer, while Valcarcel was excluded from the meeting, Munoz says. "When we asked the Union lawyer why was Valcarcel not included in this session since Valcarcel had the most serious case, the union lawyer responded that the Union does not represent retaliation and discrimination cases," he says. "So in 2008 he was denied his simple right to speak to a union lawyer and in 2009 he was denied his
arbitration rights and his recall rights after he was fired."
Munoz says months after the meeting with the lawyer, Goldman, the director of Grievances demanded that he and the other employees sign a document noting that FQM would start paying them at the higher licensed engineers' rate beginning January 1, 2009. He says he initially refused because he was owed three years worth of the difference in pay at the higher rate.
"She said 'if you do not sign this letter I will throw the grievances out the door,'" Munoz recalls, referring to Goldman, and adds that Valcarcel talked him into signing the papers "so we could move forward."
Indeed, an agreement between FQM, Local 32BJ and Munoz was signed on January 17, 2011. "Munoz shall receive the wage rate paid to Engineers under the Realty Advisory Board (RAB) Agreement covering licensed engineers, effective January 1, 2009, in full and final settlement of OCA Case No. 21816," reads the agreement, referring to Munoz's grievance complaint.
"FQM shall pay to Munoz any retroactive pay due to him as of January 1, 2009, within two weeks of this agreement," the agreement adds, confirming Munoz's claim that he is owed the differential in payments between the wage rate he had been receiving, and what he had actually should have been receiving, up until January 1, 2009.SEIU Local 32BJ, Munoz's union, as part of the agreement also withdrew his claim "with prejudice," meaning he could not re-file the same case again.
Asked why Munoz had not yet received the money owed per the agreement, the union offered an incomprehensible response which contradicted the language in the agreement which acknowledged "retroactive pay" prior to January 1, 2009. The Local 32BJ statement read: "Based on the merits of the case, and the precedents set by previous arbitrations, a settlement was reached that recovered engineer's pay retroactive to January 1, 2009. This was explained to Mr. Munoz by Union staff and he was agreeable to the terms of the settlement."
When the section in the agreement, whichrefers to retroactive pay for Munoz "as as of January 1, 2009, within two weeks," was emailed to an FQM spokesperson, Julie Halpin, for a response, she was also evasive, saying: "Per company policy, we do not discuss matters of personnel. However, all First Quality Maintenance employees are encouraged to speak to management about any issues that may arise during their employment."
Munoz contends that up to this date, he is still owed the three years' difference in pay, amounting to about $100, 000. "We are calling for an independent investigation," he says. "We are notgoing to rest until this matter is resolved even if we have to take it to Congress. We thought the National Labor Board was independent enough to do its job, but these days politics and big money influences are getting in the way."
Editor's Note: More to come in this series focusing on the City's unions. Union members can send information about their own grievances and their fight to expose alleged injustices and mistreatment: Please submit any information via email message to firstname.lastname@example.org
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