Last Thursday, about 100 workers in buildings along the High Line in Manhattan rallied in favor of a better wage and benefits. The workers also marched on the High Line in protest, to the confusion of its patrons.
In one building along the High Line (460 W. 20th St., aka “Chelsea Grande”), monthly rent goes for more than $4,200. In another building (200 11th Ave., aka “Sky Garage”), where actress Nicole Kidman and rock star Mick Jagger live, a penthouse apartment recently sold for almost $1 million.
But the employees in those buildings are working without benefits or paid sick days, and some of them barely make $11 an hour. The workers, who are struggling to meet their basic needs while working for the wealthy, decided to march and hold court in front of one of the many new buildings that surround the High Line.
“Is it too much to ask that the High Line Park be a good place for people to work too?” said 32BJ SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Kyle Bragg. “You’ve heard the saying ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’? Well, workers in buildings along the High Line—porters and concierges—are not experiencing the same economic boom as their employers. They are struggling to support themselves and their families.”
According to 32BJ SEIU, the value of residential property in West Chelsea rose by 103 percent between the years 2003 and 2011. Twenty-nine different projects have either been built or are still under construction around the High Line. High Line Park, since being opened to the public, attracts over 4 million visitors annually.
“I have to pay a $50 co-pay to go to the doctors,” said William Rosado, 60, a worker in one of the buildings. “I don’t know what would happen if I was seriously sick. My wife has to work because my insurance only covers me the little bit that it does cover. I have problems with high blood pressure, and recently, I had to miss a doctor’s appointment because I didn’t have the money.”
Fellow worker Cesar Coronel talked about being forced to take a second job to meet his family’s basic needs; he works between 60 and 80 hours a week.
“I have four children and a wife at home, and I feel like I never get to see them and spend time with them,” Coronel said in a statement. “When I get home at night, my children are sleeping, and I have to leave for my second job before they wake up.”
The increased gap between the haves and the have-nots in New York City has been well-chronicled over the past several years. City comptroller candidate and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer released a statement showing solidarity with the workers;
“No working New Yorkers should be looked in the eye and told that their health is a luxury they can’t afford, including those working in new luxury towers along the revitalized High Line.”