32BJ Union Member Says He Had To Fight His Own Battles

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[Union Matters]
A unionized building's super has provided a detailed account of how he says 32BJ didn't effectively stand up for him when he faced harassment and retaliation by his employers.

The union member says he ended up pushing his own case to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) leading to a settlement agreement that awarded him back pay for what he called a "wrongful and retaliatory" dismissal. The ruling also recognized the rights of other employees for the company he works for to speak with the media, to organize, and to speak directly with officials at the company that owns the buildings where they work.

"I did the job that my union should have done for me," says Antonio Lanzarotta, a 32BJ member who's an engineer at a property owned by Trinity Church and operated by First Quality Management (FQM). "This was a hard earned victory," he adds. "Even then, my employer is still in violation of the settlement agreement negotiated with the National Labor Relations Board. I haven't been paid the money my employer was ordered to pay."

Other union members who work for FQM went even further, suggesting that the NLRB sometimes sides with the union executives against the rank and file members.

In an earlier report in The Black Star News's April 7 edition, Lanzarotta had joined other co-workers in voicing support for a colleague of theirs, Prince Valcarcel, an immigrant from West Africa, whom they claim was abandoned by their union, 32BJ, when the same employer Trinity Church, fired Valcarcel.

Lanzarotta says his own troubles began when he filed a grievance with his union in 2010. He's a super at 200 Hudson Street, owned by powerful Trinity Church and managed by FQM.

Lanzarotta says he'd approached his 32BJ union representative Sam Delaney, who "refused to put down my complaint in the form I presented it--retaliation, discrimination and harassment," he says, adding: "When I insisted, he told me that I should not tell him how to do his job and threw my complaint in my face and then asked me to leave his office."

Lanzarotta says one week later, he was fired by FQM. He says he had discussed his encounter with Delaney with his building manager, Lou Digiovanni, also a Trinity representative. Before he was terminated, he says, a supervisor, Mark Torello, had warned him that "by filing a grievance with the union I am opening a whole can of worms and that they will start writing me up and firing us if I complained to the union."

It was also Torello who recalled him back to his post after four days, he says. Lanzarotta reported the incidents to the NLRB. The settlement agreement negotiated was signed off by FQM's executive vice president, Robert Abreu, on February 15, 2011.

FQM was to expunge from records any reference to Lanzarotta's suspension and pay him for the time lost, which came to $919 plus $19 interest--all subject to appropriate withholdings. "Two months later, no money," says Lanzarotta.

FQM's Abreu referred a call to Julie Halpin, a spokesperson, who said, "First Quality Maintenance sent these checks to their attorneys who forwarded the checks to the NLRB by the appropriate date," referring to the National Labor Relations Board. "The NLRB has advised us that if Mr. Lanzarotta has any issues concerning the checks, he is free to contact the NLRB for further assistance."

When contacted by telephone, Rebecca Leaf, an NLRB lawyer in New York who is handling the case confirmed that the group had received Lanzarotta's check. She did not explain why the NLRB would be holding on to Lanzarotta's check in apparent violation of the agreement. Leaf said she was not authorized to comment on the matter and that someone else would call The Black Star News--there was no call back by publication time.

Separately, a union spokesman says 32BJ did in fact work hard on behalf of Lanzarotta because the union. The union called his "suspension unjust" said the spokesman.

"As result of the Union's efforts, Mr. Lanzarotta's indefinite suspension was converted to a 3-day suspension without pay and he was reinstated to work on May 7, 2010 - just two days after Mr. Lanzarotta visited the Union for assistance," the spokesman continued, adding that the union then "advised Mr. Lanzarotta that the complaint was being withdrawn due to his reinstatement."

As a result of Lanzarotta's grievance with the NLRB, FQM agreed to rescind a policy that it had imposed, which barred employees from speaking to the media, or directly to officials at Trinity. As required, FQM also posted notices at prominent spots at 13 buildings owned by Trinity and managed by FQM, alerting workers of the revocation of the FQM gag law and outlining additional employees' rights, including the freedom to organize.

Additionally, FQM was also to send a notice, within a week of the settlement agreement about the outlined employees' rights, via e-mail message to 56 employees whose names were listed in an addendum to the settlement agreement. The Black Star News has learned through several employees that they had not been sent the notice by e-mail message as of the week of May 9. "I argued, to no avail, with the NLRB that the notice should be mailed to every employee, not just the 56, with their pay checks," says Lanzarotta.

Halpin, the FQM spokesperson says, "The settlement agreement required us to send the notice to 56 people. We have confirmation that the notice was sent to all 56 people. The NLRB has accepted the confirmation of the required email distribution of the notice."

The 32BJ union spokesman adds, "Mr. Lanzarotta pursued an NLRB charge against FQM on his own with the assistance of his own personal legal counsel," the spokesman added. "If Mr. Lanzarotta believes that the terms of the NLRB Settlement were not complied with, he can and maybe should contact the NLRB Board Agent who investigated the case to assist him and ensure that all Notices were delivered to FQM's employees."

The 32 BJ spokesman also confirmed that "The Union has collective bargaining agreements with both Trinity and FQM that cover these buildings."

What's more, the Lanzarotta settlement opens the door for further action. The settlement agreement "does not preclude persons from filing charges, the Acting General Counsel from prosecuting complaints, or the Board and the courts from finding violations with respect to matters which precede the date of the approval of this Agreement regardless of whether such matters are known to the Acting General counsel or are readily discoverable," the settlement reads.

Also, the agreement allows the acting General Counsel to use the evidence obtained in the Lanzarotta complaint settled "for any relevant purpose in the litigation of this and any other case(s) and a judge, the Board and the courts may make findings of fact and/or conclusions of law with respect to said evidence."

Even with the settlement agreement many employees are unaware of their rights including their collective bargaining agreement (CBA) rights and remain intimidated, Lanzarotta says. "If the union is helping its members so much, why do they not advise FQM to organize a class that teaches understanding of the collective bargaining agreement?" he says.

Another 32BJ member and Trinity employee says he wonders why FQM disregards union negotiated protections with "impunity."

"FQM keeps telling us we work for FQM," says the union member. "But technically we work for Trinity, the building’s owner according to our collective bargaining agreement. FQM is a sub-contractor. They bid for the contract and if they lose, we the union workers, stay with the buildings, Trinity Real Estate, regardless of who the new management company is. Therefore, we believe Trinity has a role to play and we cannot understand why they are allowing this to happen."

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 milton@blackstarnews.com
"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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