Printing House workers keep pressing for union

The Printing House is among the city’s toniest condo buildings.  FILE PHOTO
The Printing House is among the city’s toniest condo buildings. FILE PHOTO

BY SERGEI KLEBNIKOV  |  From the outside, the West Village’s Printing House is known for ranking among the city’s top tier of luxury residential buildings. However, underneath the surface at 421 Hudson St., the building’s workers have been locked in a bitter labor struggle that has now dragged on for more than a year.

Workers went on strike for several days in June. With the support of local union 32BJ SEIU, they hope that their cries for better wages, benefits and healthcare will finally be answered.

“We’re still fighting to get recognized and get our voices heard,” said Arturo Vergara, a longtime concierge at the building and one of the effort’s leaders.

The workers have been organizing since August 2013, and held their first rally that September. Over the past year, the union has filed several unfair labor practice charges, according to a 32BJ spokesperson.

One charge was unlawful surveillance, in which the superintendent of the building allegedly photographed the workers  — and tenants who support them — who attended rallies outside the building on several occasions, beginning in fall 2013.

In another instance, management reportedly threatened to remove Vergara, one of the most vocal workers, and transfer him to another building. 

“That wouldn’t have stopped my efforts,” the concierge told The Villager.

In May, after Kevin Samuel, one of the workers, was quoted in an article in The Villager, management reportedly threatened to fire him. Samuel, 58, who has worked at the building more than 15 years, simply expressed in the article that he wanted better pay and a union.

“We can’t just move to another job,” Vergara said, speaking last week. “We aren’t from well-to-do neighborhoods. It’s tough to start over.

“Without the union,” he added, “most of us would have been fired or transferred by now. We are all very lucky for their support.”

Last year, developer Myles Horn, who owns a majority of the building’s condo units, and the Printing House condo board attempted to stifle workers’ attempts to unionize by hiring an outside building-service organization, Planned Companies. The employees were subsequently taken off the Printing House payroll, and were now to be managed by Planned Companies, which has a “documented record of labor and wage violations,” according to 32BJ.

Planned Companies, which had various violations filed against it in the past by the National Labor Relations Board, “attracts companies and owners that want to find a way to work non-union and pay their workers less,” a 32BJ spokesperson said. “They are notorious for refusing to work with unions.”

According to Vergara, although the building’s board initially tried to intimidate workers, now they are just ignoring them — and the concerned tenants who have tried to voice their support. 

“The board is not communicating whatsoever,” he said.

According to 32BJ, there has been a huge show of support for the workers by the tenants. Tenants have been very active, both by attending rallies and advocating for the workers via fliers and meetings inside the building, the union spokesperson said.

The most recent rally occurred on the afternoon of Mon., July 21, an hour before the board convened for its residents meeting, in part to discuss the issue with the staff. The workers mobilized in front of the Printing House, before marching over to a nearby church where the meeting was held. At the residents meeting, tenants in 48 out of roughly 70 occupied units signed postcards asking the board to invite the workers in and hear them out.

“The workers at the Printing House are proud to have the support of so many tenants, but are extremely frustrated that the condo board continues to be deaf to their requests for improved working conditions,” said Kyle Bragg, secretary-treasurer of 32BJ, in a statement. “They work hard, some have been there more than a decade, and $12 an hour is just not enough to raise a family and survive in New York. They need decent wages and healthcare benefits, and there is no question that this luxury building, where apartments go for millions of dollars, can afford to pay them fairly.”

The next steps are yet to be determined, but Vergara expressed hope that the board would finally deal with the union and meet with the workers to hear them out, despite the board’s stonewalling so far. 

“Every day, I see my colleagues struggling to pay a bill or a mortgage,” Vergara said. “We’re doing this for our families.”