Queens Daily Eagle: Tenants at Astoria luxury tower demand landlord rehire fired workers

Tenants in a luxury Astoria apartment complex are stepping for a group of workers who made their lives easier during the COVID pandemic and right up until they were fired earlier this month.

A handful of residents of the 103-unit Vernon Towers joined local labor leaders and elected officials Wednesday to demand that their landlord rehire the six employees. Excel Development Group laid off nearly every staff member at the building in a plan to replace them with a camera-operated door system and single superintendent.

“I sure didn’t sign up to watch you mistreat our essential workers during a pandemic,” said tenant Alvarez Santiago. “You’ve let us down and along the way, you’ve let down the people who were our main supporters — our building staff. We are not afraid to use our rent dollars somewhere else.”

The six workers — four doorpersons and two porters — sought to organize with the labor union 32BJ and have filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that they were fired in retaliation for organizing.

“We’re just a bunch of guys trying make a living and Excel destroyed the fabric of the community we worked hard to build,” said Osman Ak, a doorman who was fired earlier this month.

The building features 21 affordable units that qualify the owners for 421-a tax credits worth $5 million a year.  

Throughout New York City, large landlords have sought to fire building staff, including superintendents, to consolidate workers across multiple buildings and slash their labor costs.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris said the terminations were “unacceptable” retaliation, especially after the employees worked through the peak of the COVID pandemic. 

“For the sake of these workers as well as the tenants who rely on them, this injustice must be reversed,” Gianaris said.

Excel, a Forest Hills-based company, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.