By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
At the rally Thursday night, Local 32BJ vice president Kyle Bragg summed up the situation as he shouted at the management office: "You came here speculating and made a bad investment. Now you're trying to put it on the backs of your workers, taking good jobs and turning them into poverty wages."
Since the lockout, Bistricer himself has stayed silently behind the scenes. His company, Renaissance Equity Holdings, issues statements via spokesmen. Last week, in response to a question about conditions in the buildings, the spokesmen had an explanation: "Some union workers did not perform their tasks as expected and required to address building conditions."
This was news to Celestino Saline, 59, who has worked at the complex as a handyman for 25 years. He has an added incentive for decent maintenance since he also lives there along with four children and three grandkids. "How do they say we're not working when they don't even buy the supplies we need to take care of things?" said Saline.
The one consolation here is that things could have been worse. A couple of years ago, Bistricer tried to buy Starrett City, the mammoth Brooklyn complex near Jamaica Bay. Starrett is twice the size of Flatbush Gardens and functions very nicely under a contract with the same union. In 2007, Bistricer made another preposterously huge bid for the development—$1.3 billion. Opponents, including Senator Charles Schumer and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, objected that Bistricer would have to sharply hike rents to pay his bankers. They also cited the little matter of a 1998 finding by a Manhattan judge of abuse and deception in Bistricer's past real estate dealings. The Starrett purchase was thankfully scuttled.
Meanwhile, Bistricer is trying to run Flatbush Gardens with replacement workers he's hired, betting that he can outlast the union. On Thursday night, local City Councilman Jumaane Williams, a former tenant organizer who worked in Vanderveer, showed up to cheer on the picketers. "We'll stay here 'til it gets warm if we have to," he told them.