Demands for affordable housing and better wages have become a rallying cry for many Americans, and last Thursday was no different. Hundreds of union apartment building workers and nonunion building employees joined with elected officials, affordable housing advocates and local residents on the High Line to call for better conditions in West Chelsea.
The actions have a purpose: 32BJ SEIU’s currently negotiating a new contract for 30,000 building workers, whose current contract expires on Sunday. Protesters were also joined by members of the community groups Save Chelsea and the Fulton Houses Tenant Association, who want to make sure increased rents don’t drive out long-time tenants.
“The doormen and concierges on the High Line do the same work as thousands of other building workers across the city, and it is clear that these luxury condo buildings can afford to pay them a decent wage and provide benefits,” said Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, in a statement. “As we fight for a fair contract for our 30,000 residential members, we also stand with these hard working, nonunion employees who deserve the same chance to earn a living so they can support themselves and their families.”
Protesters began the march at 520 W. 23rd St., making their way along the High Line. Once there, they stayeda rally while holding a banner that read “High Line for the People!” They eventually made their way to the luxury condo development owned by AvalonBay at 525 W. 28th St. AvalonBay hired Planned Lifestyle Services (PLS) to provide the concierges at the building. PLS is the residential arm of Planned Companies, a New Jersey-based maintenance and security contractor that protesters say has a documented record of labor violations and a history of documented connections to organized crime.
“I work 40 hours a week, sometimes more, but I still can’t afford to live on my own,” said Manuel Matos, 25, who lives in Washington Heights. “I don’t have health insurance and we get no sick days.”
Matos makes $12 an hour with no benefits, as a concierge at 540 W. 28th St., where a 700 square foot apartment recently sold for $1.3 million.
“There are million-dollar apartments in this building, so I know they can afford to pay me enough to live on,” said Matos. “I’m just asking for what other workers all over the city who do my job have: respect, a decent wage and benefits so that I can afford to live in this city and one day raise my own family here.”
Workers have complained about buildings offering health plans that they say are impossible for workers of their pay rate to afford, which forces them to go without care.
“I don’t know what would happen if I was seriously sick,” said William Rosado, 60, a porter at 520 W. 23rd St. “I have problems with high blood pressure, and recently I had to miss a doctor’s appointment because I didn’t have the money. When I finally went back to the doctor, she told me that I almost had a heart attack.”
Air rights above the High Line is currently being sold for $500 per square foot.