Co-Op City residents caught in middle of dispute

June 3, 2010 3:36:26 PM PDT
Co-Op City residents pay are growing more frustrated with every passing day. "It's terrible. When I walk down the street there, I hold my nose," Jervine Holmes said.

At each of the 35 high rise towers, a smelly mound of black garbage bags is growing.

Riverbay Corporation and the 500 porters, maintenance men, garbage attendants and groundskeepers workers from the local 32BJ are still at it.

"It is an impasse," Vernon Cooper, Co-Op City General Manager, said when asked about the labor dispute.

The union places the blame squarely on management.

"We were locked out. We didn't call a strike. We didn't stop our services. We were locked out," 32BJ Vice President Kyle Bragg said.

Members of 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union have been locked out since Tuesday at 12:01 a.m.

The lock out came hours before the workers had planned to strike. Their contract expired with Riverbay at midnight on Tuesday.

The contract covers the 500 porters, handymen, maintenance men, garbage attendants and groundskeepers who maintain the massive complex that is home to 55,000 New Yorkers.

RiverBay rejected the union's offer to extend contract talks, the union said.

The union wants better wages, sick days, vacation days and medical coverage. The owner, RiverBay Corporation, wants workers to switch to a more affordable health care plan.

The 55-thousand people who live at Co-Op City are stuck in the middle.

"Please ask them to hurry up and negotiate and give them a fair raise and whatever they're looking for. And that's all I gotta say. This is terrible. And you know we don't want to live like this," Rebecca Rojas said. "Disgusting, disgusting, unbelievable. I thought they would have someone else to do it.

Not only are residents disgusted by the mounds of garbage bags, they're also disgusted by the skunks, possums and raccoons that are attracted to the garbage."

"I saw a skunk yesterday, and believe me when I tell you it frightened me to death," Jervine Holmes said.

Holmes has a leak in her apartment. She says she was told it would weeks to repair.

So who's doing the work?

Co-Op City management staff is pulling 12 hour shifts while union workers are off the job.

"To provide the basic cleaning services in the buildings, collecting garbage, also taking care of the grounds and providing behind the door maintenance for those apartments that need repairs," Cooper explained.

New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio blames Co-Op City for the lockout and says residents without basic services like can call the city for help.

"We're going to work with city agencies to get whatever relief we can get in the short term for the residents of Co-Op City," he said.

Residents are pitching in too, but, for the people who live here, this dispute can only last for so long.