Wronged By Employer, 32BJ Members Ask Departing President Mike Fishman: What About Justice For Us?
Many of the 2.2 million SEIU members will want to know how cases of Messrs. Valcarcel, Lanzarotta, Munoz, and Cummings are resolved, by you or your successor
Hector Figueroa, the current Secretary-Treasurer of 32BJ.
Dear Mike Fishman,
As you know several weeks ago we we had an informal, cordial and very informative meeting.
We discussed many of the initiatives that 32BJ has launched to expand employees' union representation in New York during these trying times of job loss nationally and an anti-union climate created by Republican ideologues generally.
I expressed my newspaper's strong support for unionized workers and the important role that unions play, under duress, to barely maintain some of the hard-won gains of the past.
During our meeting I also reiterated the importance of defending union members when their rights, secured through collective bargaining, are threatened or violated by employers.
As you know, The Black Star News has covered several cases where 32BJ union members were not supported when their rights were violated by their employer: we are also working on stories about several new cases.
At the end of our meeting, I also asked that you re-examine the specific cases involving the following 32BJ union members: Prince Valcarcel; Antonio Lanzarotta; Melvin Munoz; and, Keith Cummings.
These cases demonstrate egregious instances of union members not getting the support they were entitled to as dues-paying 32BJ members. These employees have demonstrated remarkable solidarity, tenacity and camaraderie and they embody the true spirit of union pride. It's been several weeks since our meeting. I understand from the union members that their cases have not been resolved. I called union spokespersons for comment and did not receive any for publication. Here's a summary of the cases that I had asked for you to review:
1. 32BJ union member Prince Valcarcel, who is African American, by all accounts was an excellent employee and even trained his supervisors while working as a certified engineer in a building owned by Trinity Church at 100 Avenue of the Americas.
The building is operated by FQM/Alliance, a unit of SL Green Realty Corp., New York's largest owner of commercial office property.
Valcarcel was unlawfully 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.
Valcarcel had discovered that he and other workers who had engineers' certifications had been underpaid by FQM/Alliance for years. He mobilized fellow employees and they asked for help from 32BJ. Valcarcel believes his unlawful lockout could have been a retaliatory act by FQM/Alliance, to avoid paying back-wages to several employees. Valcarcel never received an official termination letter; he believes this is because both the union and his employer knew his termination was unjustified and without cause.
As you recall, Valcarcel actually met you at a social event and explained his predicament. No action has been taken on his behalf and Valcarcel has remained unemployed for three years now, with tremendous mental stress and financial hardship on him and his family. Valcarcel seeks restoration to his job as well as back-pay and benefits and seniority due.
2. Antonio Lanzarotta, who is White, has been a union member for more than 26 years. He works at 200 Hudson Street, also a TRINITY-owned and FQM/Alliance operated building. Lanzarotta exposed numerous work-related issues at his work place, including the unfair treatment of Valcarcel and the illegal actions of a manager who ordered White employees not to interact with Black workers.
Lanzarotta hired a private lawyer when 32BJ refused to take up his case against TRINITY and FQM/Alliance. The case was adjudicated with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), leading to an agreement whereby FQM/Alliance was prohibited from any further retaliation against Lanzarotta. His lost wages was reimbursed and he was restored to his post at work.
The settlement agreement negotiated was signed off by FQM's executive vice president, Robert Abreu, on February 15, 2011.
What's more, the agreement with the NLRB also barred FQM/Alliance from retaliating against employees who report work-related grievances directly to FQM/Alliance and Trinity Church and who spoke to members of the media.
Yet FQM/Alliance has continued its retaliatory acts against Lanzarotta, suspending him for actions protected by the collective bargaining agreement and the February 15, 2011 NLRB settlement agreement. The most recent suspension, without pay, was on April 2, 2012, for two days.
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 NLRB settlement agreement. As in previous cases, Lanzarotta was retaliated against for reporting work-related problems directly to TRINITY and FQM/Alliance.
Lanzarotta seeks an end to the retaliation which is barred by the collective bargaining agreement and the NLRB agreement.
According to many FQM/Alliance employees who work in the TRINITY buildings, the company keeps a Black Book for black-listed workers who are then targeted for retaliation.
3. One of the engineers who had certification and had been underpaid for years was 32BJ member Melvin Munoz who works at 1 Hudson Square under a super chief engineer, who makes far more than any lead engineer at TRINITY, according to insiders.
After Valcarcel exposed the underpayments, an agreement for back-pay was signed between 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.." That was three years and six-months ago and Munoz still awaits his payment. He estimates that he is owed about $100,000 in addition to interest. Munoz seeks the payment of monies owed to him per the agreement between the three parties.
4. Finally, there is the shocking case of Keith Cummings, a 32BJ member and a janitor. When he traveled to Jamaica in October 2011, he faced some problems securing a return visa. Even though his wife called his employer to explain the problem, the company acted as if it had never been informed about the delay and Cummings was fired. Although Cummings eventually got his job back, he has never been repaid for the three months he was wrongfully terminated.
Earlier, in 2010, Cummings suffered a heart attack, which he says was due to work-related stress from harassment by his managers. Cummings eventually had open heart surgery in 2010. When he eventually returned to the job, Cummings says he was deliberately re-assigned from his normal duties, to work that now included heavy lifting. He says FQM/Alliance was aware of the heart surgery since the company had ordered that he take five doctors' physicals before he was allowed to return to work. Cummings claims that his managers wanted him to suffer another heart attack.
Cummings seeks repayment of monies owed when he was wrongfully terminated for three months and an end to the retaliation, including being assigned to work that included heavy lifting.
Mr. Fishman, I am aware that in May you were promoted to the post of Executive Vice President of 32BJ’s parent, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has 2.2 million members across the U.S. and in Canada and Puerto Rico.
As you know, many of these 2.2 million members will be interested in knowing how the cases of Messrs. Valcarcel, Lanzarotta, Munoz, and Cummings are resolved, either by you or your successor
Hector Figueroa, the current Secretary-Treasurer of 32BJ.
My newspaper will monitor the progress in resolving these and other cases even as we cover the good work that unions do.
You have it within your power to do the right thing by meeting with these loyal dues-paying union members, to resolve the problems they face, by making sure they enjoy the rights secured through collective bargaining and the NLRB agreements restated above.
Your judicious action will go a long way towards restoring the full confidence that workers want to have in their unions and in union leaders.
CC: Hector Figueroa, Secretary-Treasurer of 32BJ
Incoming President, 32BJ
"Speaking Truth To Empower."
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