JERSEY CITY, NJ - Workers at the James Monroe condominium building in Downtown Jersey City were back to work Tuesday after staging a 24-hour strike to protest what they called the condo board's bad faith bargaining in the middle of a pandemic.

Using appropriate social distancing measures, striking workers laid out letters spelling out "SHAME ON YOU JAMES MONROE CONDO BOARD" across the street from the building, where residents could see from their windows.

"We understand that, as essential workers, the residents of the building need us to keep them safe and keep everyday life going," said Billy Valdez, a concierge who has worked at the building for 30 years. "But instead of acknowledging that we are putting ourselves at risk every day to do our work, the building's condo board is making use of the pandemic to try to undercut the wages and benefits we have fought for so hard. It's more than we can take, that's why we're on strike."

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The more than one dozen workers who, according to a statement, have been without a contract since December 31, 2019, recently proposed extending the terms of the expired contract through the end of the year, and resume negotiations once the State of Emergency was lifted. 

Instead, they say, the building's condo board proposed cutting worker wages, as well as cutting overtime pay, holiday pay and eliminating pensions.

The statement also detailed what they called “mistreatment at the hands of the board that showed little consideration for their well-being during the pandemic,” including forcing one worker to use his paid time off to go into quarantine after this elderly mother-in-law succumbed to COVID-19 and his son tested positive for the virus.After continued pressure from the workers, they say, the board finally agreed to pay the worker for his time in quarantine.

"We have worked hand in hand with many other employers in New Jersey who understand the value of experienced essential workers and the vital services they provide, and have agreed to provide our members with some protections during this difficult time," said SEIU 32BJ Vice President and New Jersey director Kevin Brown. "It's unconscionable for the James Monroe board to try to use the pandemic to undercut these workers' wages, benefits and rights."

One of the building’s concierges, Barbara Corella, said that while she is worried about being exposed to coronavirus she still goes to work every day because she has to support her three grandkids while her son is serving overseas in the military. "We think it's reasonable to hit the pause button on negotiations, but the disrespect of the condo board in trying to cut our wages is more than we can take when we are all under such stress."

Workers also reported that before the pandemic hit, the condo board president approached workers one-on-one, asking them to sign documents saying they would support the condo board's proposals for a new contract, rather than those presented by the bargaining committee and the union. None of the workers signed the statement, and the union filed Unfair Labor Practice charges against the board.

Speaking out on behalf of the workers was Jersey City Councilman James Solomon who said that “essential workers deserve raises, not cuts."

"The workers at the James Monroe Condo are on the front lines. I stand with them as they fight against a condo board that seeks cuts to their wages in the midst of this pandemic."

While Monday’s action focused on the James Monro Condo, the situation is another reflection of how vulnerable essential workers are in this moment without stronger federal protections, Brown said.

"Actions taken by individual employers like the board at James Monroe in this period aim to strip workers of the resources and protections their families desperately need during this unprecedented crisis," said Brown. "This is why we, as a union, are encouraging federal action to get essential pay and layoff protections for essential workers like those at James Monroe."

An email for comment sent to the management company listed on the James Monroe Condo website was not responded to.

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