More than 100 essential workers in New Jersey residential buildings went on strike on Sept. 24, demanding hazard pay, paid quarantine leave, and a harassment-free workplace from their employer, Planned Companies, a Parsippany-based residential and commercial building services contractor.
Doorpersons, porters, and handypersons from eight buildings walked out of their jobs to demand an end to the “untenable” work conditions they face as essential workers serving families and communities in Jersey City, Hoboken, East Orange, Secaucus, and Guttenberg.
Workers walked a picket line at their buildings before coming together in front of 77 Hudson Street and 99 Hudson Street, two downtown Jersey City residential buildings operated by Planned. The latter is the tallest building in New Jersey, and the third tallest condo building in the country.
According to officials with 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, on Sept. 16, more than 100 Planned workers in northern New Jersey submitted a petition to Planned demanding hazard pay, paid quarantine leave, and an end to illegal intimidation.
The workers demand hazard pay of $2 an hour and 14 extra paid sick days to be used for quarantine purposes during the coronavirus pandemic, but Planned refused their demands.
According to Vice President and New Jersey State Director of 32BJ Kevin Brown, when employees attempted to organize and join the union, Planned allegedly intimidated and harassed them.
“We’re taking the streets because Planned has yet again failed to respect the workers’ right to organize free from retaliation,” said Brown. “This is unconscionable at any time. During a pandemic, it’s downright despicable.”
Higher wages, better healthcare
Planned workers are paid as little as $11 an hour, and many receive only five days of combined paid vacation and sick leave, according to 32BJ which noted that the median wage for New Jersey residential concierges and porters employed by Planned is $24,960 a year, with many uninsured.
“Even though I’m far from my family, I love keeping other families safe. I love making sure that the families I protect can come home every night during this coronavirus crisis and be safe,” said Iris Aliaga, a Peruvian immigrant who has worked at Planned buildings for about two years. “We don’t want empty promises anymore. What we want is simple: we want to be paid a living wage, we want to be able to quarantine without having to be scared of not being able to make rent, and we want your discrimination to stop.”
County and local elected officials offered their support at the protest, including Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea, Jersey City Council President Joyce Watterman, and Jersey City Ward E Councilman James Solomon.
“Today I stand with you because of injustice,” Watterman said. “It is right for people to make a decent wage. It is right for people to have medical care. It is right for people to be able to feed their families. So I stand with you today with a commitment that your voices shall be heard. In this country there is liberty, there is freedom, and there is hope. … ”
“We are standing here surrounded by high rises and buildings,” said Councilman James Solomon. “Some of the wealthiest people in New Jersey live here, but we don’t measure our progress with each building that rises. … We measure our progress in Jersey City by how we treat our workers. We measure progress if workers can put food on their table. We measure progress if a worker doesn’t have to choose between rent and prescription medicine. We measure progress if workers can go to work safely and if they fall ill, they don’t have to put themselves or their families at risk without sick days for quarantine. What Planned offers is not progress. They are interested in profits alone. “
Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea said what workers are asking for is “more than fair and reasonable,” noting that the county just negotiated with its own unions for $6 an hour in hazard pay.
During the rally, Brown called for a moment of silence for union supporter Dario Cardenas, a porter employed by Planned at The Beacon in Jersey City who died earlier this year from COVID-19-related complications.
After the rally, workers marched with social distancing around 77 Hudson St. and 99 Hudson St., holding signs that said “Planned: Respect Essential Workers!” and “Planned: Protect us like we protect the residents!,” chanting “Si se puede!” or “yes we can” and “I believe that we will win!”
Ben Martin, a spokesperson for Planned Companies, said in an emailed statement following the protest that Planned respects the employees’ rights to assemble and alleged that 32BJ was “posturing” and “bullying” employers with “baseless claims and blatant untruths” in order to “fill the union’s coffers rather than provide effective representation of their members.“
“Despite the union’s claims to the contrary, we continue to provide our employees with high-quality health coverage and some of the most competitive wages and benefits in the industry,” Martin said. “Planned is not anti-union. In fact, we have a number of successful union relationships where collaboration has fostered a positive environment for our employees. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have continually sourced quality personal protective equipment for our team, established a $500,000 COVID-19 Immediate Response Program to help employees affected by this pandemic, and modified our existing sick day and leave policies to address the needs of our employees and their families. The union did not offer to contribute anything to our relief fund to support their members, they are tone deaf to the essential work being performed daily, and are putting people at risk for their own selfish gain.”
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