Co-op labor dispute brings clash between workers and security guards

Simmering tensions at a Rockaway co-op hit a boiling point yesterday when maintenance workers on strike said they were harassed by armed security guards.

The workers were reportedly trying to block a truck from picking up garbage outside the Dayton Beach Park co-ops – a five-building development that runs from Beach 81st to Beach 88th Sts. in Rockaway – sparking a confrontation with security guards.

Some workers said a guard pulled out a gun and that police were called to the scene.

“It was not drawn, or else he would have been arrested,” said property manager Rodney Reid. “They stood in front of a truck and refused to move.”

Workers, represented by 32BJ SEIU, went on strike last week after contract talks between the co-op board and union collapsed.

The board said it could not afford to give the workers pay increases. Union officials said the two sides were close to a deal when the co-op board asked for more concessions. It said those actions fueled an unfair labor practice complaint.

“I feel awful about it,” said board President Jennifer Grady, referring to the labor dispute.

The development is still part of the Mitchell-Lama program and is populated with seniors, veterans and middle-class families who cannot afford higher maintenance fees, she said.

“This co-op was millions of dollars in debt,” Grady said, adding that the union was looking for 10% raises over the life of the four-year pact. “If we give in to those demands, it would break the co-op.”

The board was willing to pay for increases to the workers pension and health care benefits, but not pay raises, she said.

Union officials said the workers cannot accept pay freezes.

“Even in hard times, the cost of living is rising,” said Kyle Bragg, vice president of 32BJ SEIU. “But instead of treating these workers with respect and dignity, the board president is trying to cut costs on the backs of the hard-working people who keep the apartment buildings running and residents safe.”

The battle has also divided those who live in the complex.

“There’s money for a garden and to fix up community rooms,” said long-time resident Patricia McCabe.

“They should be able to find a some money – a compromise – to pay the workers we know and trust.”

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