Players workers threaten to rally

Players President Johnnie Planco at the club in April (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Players President Johnnie Planco at the club in April (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The unionized workers at The Players who’ve been battling with administrators there for years over the continuation of their contract have finally declared war on the cash-strapped club.

The reason, according to Joe Canela, a bartender there who’s also the club’s union rep, is that he heard through the grapevine that the club is looking to get rid of the unionized employees.

The Gramercy Park institution has been in danger of closing its doors due to money it owes to various parties that’s believed to be around $4 million. Additionally, according to Canela, the club hasn’t been earning much income by renting space out for events because there haven’t been too many of those lately.

“There’s no business in there,” he said. (A scroll through the club’s event calendar, which is on its website, shows numerous private events taking place in the coming week, though it isn’t clear if they’re revenue-producing ones or not.)

The club’s president, Johnnie Planco, declined to comment on union-related issues.

As for the union, Canela said negotiations were supposed to have taken place in September, but instead there hasn’t been any communication.

“We kind of feel betrayed,” he said.  “We understood that once the crooked administration was out, the right thing was going to be done,” he added, in reference to the club’s ousting of its longtime executive director, John Martello, back in April. Martello came under fire for giving away spaces for events that would normally be rented, though he defended those events as being part of the programming for members.

At this time, there are around 20 unionized workers — waiters, bartenders and kitchen staffers — around half of them full-time, the other half part-time, working only at events. Earlier in the summer, the club fired the longtime chef at The Players, a $70,000 position, but Canela indicated this was no great loss to the kitchen staff.

Additionally, for the past couple of weeks, he said the club has not paid its workers. During a recent event, some employees were going to walk out in protest, but Canela said he stopped them. Instead, if nothing changes, the union will be holding a rally in a few weeks. Canela added that the workers have the support of some well-known actors, though he wouldn’t name them.

However, in response to the union’s plans, one longtime member, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the club’s leadership isn’t, through its lack of communication, necessarily trying to get rid of the union.

“As far as I know, nobody’s trying to throw them out,” said the member, adding that some members are just hoping the workers’ fees will be renegotiated to make the club’s own fees for events more competitive. “I don’t think they’ve intentionally (disrespected) the workers,” the source added, but the club’s leaders have been busy “trying to keep things afloat. So you forget to do the right thing because you’re in survival mode.”

Another member agreed, saying as far as he knew, club leaders were actually trying to preserve employees’

Front room at The Players (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Front room at The Players (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

jobs. Still, he said, he understood why the workers wouldn’t trust that the board or the president has their best interests at heart. This would be because in 2008, the union workers were assured their jobs were safe when the club’s kitchen and bar affairs were turned over to an outside catering company, only to then get fired. They sued to get their jobs back though and won. The catering company is no longer involved at The Players. Still, said the member, at this time, “There is no concerted effort to get rid of the union. The idea that there’s some sort of conspiracy is just not true.”

It was in March when the general membership of the club, through the findings of an internal audit committee, discovered just how heavily the club was bleeding money. As T&V previously reported, this past summer, Planco made a plea to members for donations to pay a tax lien on the club that the city had sold for around $251,500.

“It seems,” Planco shared with members, “that we haven’t made a payment on the payment plan entered in October, 2011 with NYC in almost a year and that is why our lien was sold.”

Other payments the club owed included sales taxes to the state, including interest and penalties (a total of around $49,000), long deferred façade repairs (estimated to be a $325,000 job) and union fees as well as fees for various vendors, though exactly how much even Planco had no idea.

In 2012, Martello had blamed the loss of income at the club on the recession causing members to cancel memberships, which cost around $2,000 a year. However, many club members blame the longtime board members, including Planco, and at a meeting held in June, some members believed they’d have a chance to vote him out. However, the meeting was adjourned before a vote could be held. He was re-elected by the board though.

Planco has told Town & Village there are plans in place to raise cash for the club, though he declined to share what they were. This week, he didn’t respond to a request for comment on the progress of those plans.

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Reckoning in Congress

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

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Steven Sanders

Long Island Republican Congressman Peter King has never been one to mince words. Over the weekend he charged that some of his fellow Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives were behaving like “political terrorists” and literally threatening to damage the United States and our economy if they cannot get their way in delaying or defunding the Affordable Care Act also known as “Obamacare.”

Representative King has hit the nail on the head.

A small group of right wing and Tea Party affiliated Republicans in Congress have shut down the federal government and could possibly devalue the credit worthiness of the U.S. dollar if they cannot achieve by threats and extortion what they failed to win by legislation and that is to derail the new health care law which they loathe. It is hard to know whether they hate the law or despise the President more, but that is what they are doing.

Don’t get me wrong, any member of Congress or any citizen for that matter has every right to oppose a policy they disagree with and they have every right to dislike anyone that they choose. However, what is terribly disturbing and destructive is that after having lost their fight against Obamacare in the votes in Congress and in the vote from the last Presidential election, and after the law was upheld by the United State Supreme Court, these right wing militants have decided to put the entire United States economy in jeopardy lest the President and the majority of the House and the Senate give in to their extortion. This brand of extreme politics and blind “no compromise ideology” is common in the Middle East, but it is something new to American political discourse. It is fundamentalism practiced in a three-piece suit.

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Letters to the Editor, Oct. 3

Who does what for whom?

In his It Seems to Me column, “America is a Great Country” (T&V, Sept. 26) Christopher Hagedorn noted that, “You don’t have to be a statistics major in college (Where else, one might ask?)to understand that persons with kids over 26 are paying for persons with kids under 26,” and Mr. Hagedorn goes on to stress, “All of the above are paying for others with chronic diseases.”

In reading Mr. Hagedorn, I was reminded of PBS reporters, Thursday the 26th, as I recall, who pushed the point that the young (contributors) would be paying for the elderly and sick. So the question I have is this: Is that so? Is it so that those who make no claims pay for those that do?

I believe that here we are witness to the framed opposition between collective actions (such as insurance) and those who take a more deeply personal and self-centered, almost acquisitive, view.

I want to offer something different.  I want to acknowledge collective actions, public and private such as health care, Social Security, with its payments to widows, kids, disabled, but also car and home insurances, for two, provided by private insurance companies. These are forms of collective behavior. Hence, when I pay my health care premium that is not analogous to my paying for the narrow world of buying a theater ticket:

I pay for my ticket and get a show. That’s it! Nor is my paying into an insurance fund analogous to my setting money aside for myself in the form of a savings, bond fund or stock.

While it is true that a record may be kept of my contributions, that record does not indicate ownership; it merely shows my contributions. When I retire, or get sick, I do not draw on them, I draw on the fund. If I do not draw on my contributions, then  contrary to Mr. Hegedorn and the gentle voices on PBS, I do not draw on those of others either!  Social Security and health care were never “nest eggs.” They were never singular “savings for a rainy day.” They are complex  participations in the life of a people, and they do not have the logic of Me, Myself and I. To suggest that they do is to distort the collective energies of a people.

John Giannone, ST

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Residents having a tougher time reaching management

The Avenue C management office, damaged by Sandy, is still boarded up. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The Avenue C management office, damaged by Sandy, is still boarded up.
(Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Where oh where is management?

That seems to be the question posed by residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village following CWCapital’s moving of the management office off the property last spring.

Since then, the feeling from many tenants is that management has been harder to get a hold of when they have questions or complaints or require some sort of follow-up to said questions or complaints.

This week, Susan Steinberg, the chair of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, told Town & Village “absolutely, unquestionably” there’s been a rise in this sentiment and the association would know because it’s been getting near daily complaints that reaching management has become a lot more difficult. After Hurricane Sandy destroyed the management office on Avenue C close to a year ago, for several months, there were the temporary offices opened at the amenity spaces. But then, management moved offsite (word is to CW’s midtown office) and residents were given phone numbers to call instead. In June, it was announced that management would be back eventually at 274-276 First Avenue (currently the Oval Concierge space) and at this time, some redevelopment plans for the building to accommodate the offices are pending with the city.

As of this week, Steinberg said the TA has been accumulating complaints from tenants who’ve said they have problems that have been made worse due to a lack of response from management.

Below are a few examples:

1) A resident who saw an unexpected $1,000 balance on a rent bill has been trying to get an explanation from the accounting department via email and calling, but has so far not gotten a response.

2) One former resident who recently moved out of the city has been asking CWCapital to confirm with his new landlord that he was a tenant in good standing. However, his calls have not been responded to nor have his new landlord’s. “He’s concerned he’s going to be without a home in a new city,” said Steinberg.

3) A new tenant who signed a lease in mid-September has still not gotten a copy of a lease and when he went to the leasing office, was told that his agent was on leave and no one else could help him.

4) One resident had his September rent payment returned along with a checklist of reasons why the payment might not have been accepted. However, none of the reasons on the list were checked off. The tenant has called the legal department and left numerous messages that have not been returned.

That resident, Stephen Solomita, told T&V he’s in the SCRIE program, so a portion of his rent has been getting paid by that program. Meanwhile, he’s only supposed to be billed for his portion, rather than the full amount though that amount is what’s been showing up on his rent bill.

“I called seven times in five days after getting the check back and nobody ever returns a call,” Solomita said. “You know what’s going to happen,” he added. “You’re going to get an eviction notice.”

He’d been directed by management to call a rent arrears hotline, “which doesn’t appear to be very hot to me,” he noted. “But ever since they went offsite, you can’t talk to a person and they don’t really respond.”

Another resident, Paul Lee of Peter Cooper, said he’s been having difficulties communicating with management since July when the amount of his rent was lowered — or so he thought — as a result of the “Roberts” settlement. There were a number of calculations on his invoice that he’d found confusing and had attempted to reach management for an explanation but wasn’t able to, he said. He paid the lowered amount on the invoice though and soon received a letter from the legal department, excusing the one-time lateness in payment but warning him he’d be paying a late fee next time. He was eventually able to reach someone, and said he was told he shouldn’t get another legal notice, though he still didn’t get an explanation about the different rent amount. Then in September after continuing to pay the lower amount that would appear on the invoice, Lee said he was did end up getting socked with a late fee. He admitted his rent was sent in late but said it was not by a full ten days, which is when the fees apply. After playing phone tag to try and dispute it, though he noted, “I’ve been doing most of the tagging,” Lee simply paid the fee, hoping the situation would get resolved eventually.

Having been a tenant since 2009, Lee said he feels the communication system has gotten worse since then.

“I understand it’s not easy for a landlord when half of your property is flooded by the East River, but we pay for certain amenities,” he said.

Steinberg, meanwhile, called the lack of onsite access to management “a growing frustration.

“While it is not a reduction in service in the classic HCR sense, it certainly is a diminution of what should be considered appropriate and timely management response to tenant inquiries,” she said. “Tenants have as much right to expect a responsible management as management has to expect responsible tenants. In some instances, particularly where the payment of late fees or rent demands are concerned, the lack of response from management starts to look, feel and smell like harassment.”

In response to the concerns, a rep for CWCapital did not respond to a question about the issue of residents having a harder time reaching management, and said the company won’t comment on correspondence from individual residents. However, as for the return of the management office, the spokesperson, Brian Moriarty, said, “We are planning to bring the full management office back to the property and are working on those plans. As soon as they are finalized we will share them with the community.”

In June, in one of management company CompassRock’s community newsletters, it was announced that management would eventually move to the Oval Concierge space, though there would need to be construction in the basement first to create more room. Oval Concierge would be moved elsewhere on the First Avenue Loop though it wasn’t said where exactly. Public safety would be moved to 2 Stuyvesant Oval. According to the newsletter, the new management office would be designed with future disasters in mind so it could function as a command center, and work was expected to be completed by spring of 2014.

Moriarty didn’t respond to say if those plans were still on track, but did have some news about the Avenue C office.

“As for the old management office space, we will be converting part of that space into a new facility for children,” he said. “We are currently speaking to several potential vendors for the space and hope to be able to announce an agreement soon.”