Wednesday, June 02, 2010


The workers at Co-Op City have gone out on strike, and if our dealings with the Keystone Kops who run the complex are any indication, the lack of managerial acumen is the root cause of the labor debacle. As the WSJ reports: "The standoff between the River Bay Corporation and SEIU’s Local 32BJ chapter — which affects almost 60,000 people — stems from the union’s displeasure with River Bay’s proposal of slightly higher wages and a reduced health care plan for 500 workers. “We’re basically at a place where they’re asking us to choose between feeding our families and keeping them healthy,” said Alexander Vargas, who’s worked as a groundskeeper for 19 years. “It’d be great if we could do both.”

Given the incapacities of the current management of Co-Op City, we believe that there is a dire need for an outside arbiter. For the past two months we have been trying to resolve an amicable exit from the complex for its long time supermarket operator, Ramon Vargas. Vargas has operated three stores in the facility for twenty years and is a fixture among Co-Op City residents. He opened his markets when all of the local food stores had closed, and the residents would have had to drive out of the area for their groceries.

Vargas had negotiated a sale of his stores to a family owned company with a great track record of business success-and by all accounts Co-Op mangers were happy with the newcomers. But then came irrational demands by the inept team of overseers-led by incompetent lawyers and leasing agents who frankly have no idea about what they are supposed to be doing. Phony violations were found and Vargas was forced to get a court injunction when Co-Op, probably sensing a rich dividend from the new owners, tried to unsuccessfully abrogate the Vargas leases.

All of this ineptitude hides a growing discontent of the merchants in the large residential complex. Repairs aren't done, store owners are improperly dunned for work that management is legally responsible for, and attempts by some retailers to sublease their stores is thwarted by incompetence. So the strike by 32BJ is just the tip of the iceberg-and dramatizes what the small business owners have had to deal with for the past few years. If it keeps up, and in particular if Vargas can't get the relief he deserves, then the current worker walk out will only be the beginning of the Co-OP City chaos that's sure to follow.