Says Employer FQM And 32BJ Union Are HEARTLESS

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[State of The Union]

32BJ Union Faces Revolt By More Members Claiming Abandonment

More employees who work in 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.

"Even as we enter the Lenten season, another important calender in the struggle of the church that brought about the great redemption in the life and birth of the church, 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, a devout Christian, who has been fighting to regain his job for two years. He and colleagues say he was wrongful locked out of his work place by a 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.

"We welcome other unionized workers who are now also standing up for their rights," Valcarcel says, referring to five other 32BJ members who reached out to The Black Star News, and whose stories about lawsuits they have filed against the union will be published in next weeks newspaper. "We are still calling on senior managers at the Trinity Real Estate and Owners of Trinity Church to use this period of Lent and bring this mayhem to an end," Valcarcel, who has been locked out without a paycheck for over two years, says.

Separately, another employee, Keith Cumming, says he was reshuffled into an assignment that involves heavy-lifting, soon after he reported back to work after open heart surgery.

"Are they trying to kill me?" Cumming  says, of 32BJ and the contractor that handles the Trinity buildings, First Quality Maintenance/Alliance.  Ironically, Tony Colazzo, the manager for the Janitorial Services used to work with Cumming as a janitor at the World Trade Center.

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.

In dealing with 32BJ and FQM/Alliance, Cumming  is learning what Valcarcel and two other workers, Antonio Lanzarotta and Melvin Munoz, say they've experienced for years. 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 claim.

In addition to Valcarcel's case, for the past several weeks The Black Star News has documented the experiences of Antonio Lanzarotta, who says he continues to face retaliation since reporting favoritism at his building, as well as Melvin Munoz, says he 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 for money owed. FQM/Alliance and 32BJ have ignored the signed deal; Munoz is exploring legal action.

Cumming , who had heart surgery a few months ago, is a janitor with SEIU Local 32BJ and works at 200 Hudson Street, a Trinity-owned building. "Even after my heart attack and surgery, they continue to come after me for every little thing," Cumming says, of FQM/Alliance. "They suspend me for two months without pay for no-call no-show, when in fact my wife called to report my ill health. They move me around from one building to another, while they protect and cover-up for janitors and engineers that have internal connections."

Cumming says other employees are terrified about reporting transgression by other janitors and engineers. "You will be the bad guy and you are then considered not a team player," he adds. Cumming's case will also be explored in detail in next week's issue.

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 after a recent Black Star News article about the employees' alleged grievances, he was summoned for grilling by management at the building where he works.

Lanzarotta 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?"

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?"

The five additional SEIU Local 32BJ members who approached The Black Star News and whose accounts of their alleged ordeals will be published next week also work for buildings operated by FQM/Alliance.

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 consultants.

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 four colleagues have filed a lawsuit against FQM/Alliance and S.L. Green Realty in State Supreme Court. Their case will be discussed in detail in next week's issue of The Black Star News. "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 pains."

Rodriguez, President of FQM/Alliance also did not respond to an e-mail message. Separately, a 32BJ spokesperson did not respond before publication deadline but was informed via email message that the union would always be given an opportunity to respond.

"Speaking Truth To Empower." 

If any worker has had any similar experiences working for FQM/Alliance or if your union hasn't effectively represented you send a note to [email protected]

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