Op-Ed | Luxury apartment building workers shouldn’t be struggling to feed our families

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Even before COVID-19 hit New York City last year, I lived in fear of getting sick. For the last 8 years, I have worked as a porter at a luxury building on the West Side of Manhattan where apartments routinely sell for more than $1 million. I take great pride in keeping the building clean and welcoming for the residents but I make slightly more than minimum wage and I’m struggling to support my family.

I make just $18 an hour and I have no health insurance. My fiance was laid off right before the pandemic and I’ve been supporting both of us and our three kids on my salary. I constantly worry about money and I’m terrified of getting sick.

We’re on such a tight budget at home that sometimes I skip a meal just so I can save a little money to feed my kids. I haven’t been able to see a doctor in over 2 years and I have lived in dread of what might happen if I were to get sick during the pandemic.

My coworkers in the building also face the same challenges I do trying to support their own families on pay as low as $16.50 an hour.

About 2,000 building service workers in New York City are in the same boat as we are: they work in high-end buildings but their pay and benefits are below the industry standard prevailing wage.

That’s why my coworkers and I are urging our legislators in Albany to pass a bill that would mandate high-end New York City apartments that receive tax breaks pay family-sustaining wages and benefits to the workers in their buildings.

We are only asking for the good jobs that have long been the hallmark of our industry. Building service worker jobs have provided good pay and benefits and been a bedrock of the New York City economy for generations. Luxury buildings shouldn’t be undercutting that standard.

For the last 15 months, I’ve risked my health and the health of my family every day on the job and so have my coworkers. But even before the pandemic, we were struggling. We all deserve good pay and benefits that will enable us to provide a bright future for our kids.

A prevailing wage law linked to tax abatements would ensure high-end apartment buildings pay a fair wage, raising up the wage floor in our industry and making a huge difference for our families.

With a prevailing wage law, I’d be able to eat every meal, pay all my bills and have some money left over at the end of the month to save to buy a home and to send my kids to college.

With only a few days left in the legislative session, my coworkers and I are calling on the State Senate and Assembly to pass this bill and send it to the Governor to sign into law.

More than 15 months after the pandemic started, I am still working hard every day to protect all the residents in my building and help them stay healthy and happy. I just want to be able to do the same for my family.

Chris Sanchez lives in Brooklyn.

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