Council Member Palma, Others Sit-In for Empire State Building Workers
by Ryan Eick, Staff Writer
Cries of “justice plus dignity equals equality” rang down Fifth Avenue today, as a union staged a sit-in with local community leaders.
A coalition that calls itself Stand Up for Worker Justice blocked the sidewalk in front of the Empire State Building, blaring biblical messages on megaphones and singing songs of civil disobedience. The cause: security worker compensation and benefits.
Security workers at the Empire State building are currently paid $9 per hour without health benefits or state-of-the-art training, according to Daniel Massey, a communications coordinator for the Service Employees’ International Union. These employees are charged with the safety of the 350,000 people who access the skyscraper daily.
“These workers are being paid the same they were ten years ago,” said the Rev. Reggie Williams of the Charity Baptist Church of Christ in the Bronx. “Those are pre-Sept. 11 wages.” Rev. Williams is the head of Religious Leaders for Workers’ Justice, a group of more than 85 religious figures from around the city.
New York City Council Cember Annabel Palma joined protestors from SEIU’s local 32BJ and RLWJ on a march down 34th street and sat cross-legged in front of the Empire State building’s fifth avenue entrance.
“Give it up for her! She’s getting arrested,” shouted Rev. Williams minutes before he, Palma and 13 other protestors were loaded into a police wagon The Council Member made no public statement.
In compliance with New York Safe and Secure, an SEIU plan endorsed by mayor Bloomberg and police commissioner Kelly, security employees at other high-profile locations receive 40 hours of skills training. Employees of Copstat, the company responsible for Empire State building security, do not.
Peter Malkin of the Empire State Building Company (who has been called out individually by the coalition) was unavailable for questions, as were Copstat officials.
According to Massey, Local 32BJ has already filed charges against administrators for transferring security employees who have been vocal in organizing the building’s labor force. In 2003, the monthly turnover rate among the building’s security employees was 73 percent.
New York City employs roughly 63,000 security guards, 75 of which work in the Empire State Building. Approximately 56 percent of NYC security officers are African American and another 21 percent are Hispanic.
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