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Hey, that was my job: SEIU members protest outside KeyBank.

Thanks for the Job—No Thanks for the Pay Cut

On March 31, about 70 down- town janitorial workers and union members held a rally in front of KeyBank’s offices on South Pearl Street in Albany to protest Varsity Contractors, the building’s cleaning contractor, for what they called unfair labor practices. Service Employees International Union Local 200 organized the protest after Varsity didn’t rehire any of the building’s eight current workers, who are SEIU members, after taking over as the building’s cleaning contractor. March 31 was to be the workers’ last day of employment.

The day after the protest, Varsity offered jobs to all of the workers, and seven accepted. Fred Pfeiffer of SEIU said the offer surprised him, and he attributes it to the community support and the rally. But the fight is not over, he added. Although the workers were hired, as new employees they’ve lost the seniority of their old positions, and some will receive decreased pay and benefits. “We’re still fighting and we’re not going to stop,” he said. “This is one building and eight people. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t receive justice.”

The KeyBank rally was part of the struggle for a reasonable living wage in New York state, said Pfeiffer. Two county legislators, Wanda Willingham and Lucille McKnight, who support the increase in the minimum wage (currently $5.15/hour) now before the state Legislature, spoke in support of the workers at the protest.

—Liz Healy

Shuffle Your Feet, Lose Your Spot

Parking is going to be a little tight on Tuesdays in downtown Albany in the coming months. The Downtown Parking Committee, which comprises representatives from the Center Square, Hudson-Park, Mansion, Ten Broeck Triangle, and Washington Park neighborhood associations, has designated Tuesdays as “leave your car home” days for 10 weeks starting April 13.

Although some see this as a hostile move in the ongoing fight for a residential permit parking system [“A Space of One’s Own,” March 4], Councilman Richard Conti (Ward 6) insisted that scoring a political point is not the goal. Instead, it’s more like the neighborhoods taking matters into their own hands. Conti said the park-in is designed to “encourage commuters to explore different ways of commuting downtown, including public transit, carpooling, and walking.”

He hopes the park-in will give an incentive for commuters—public and private employees—to check out other methods of getting to work, and that some of them will stick with those new methods. Ideally, the increased demand would result in better transit service.

The downtown neighborhoods have tried a park-in before, about five years ago, but it was a one-day event, and after some criticism, committee members realized that “if you’re going to change people’s habits, it’s not going to happen in one day,” according to Conti. Some people suggested varying the park-in days so they would be unpredictable, but Conti said the final decision was made to keep it on Tuesdays so commuters would be able to plan ahead for which alternative methods they wanted to explore.

A residential permit system would have the same results as a park-in, noted Conti, “but since we don’t have that, we’re using the park-in as an alternative tool.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Follow the Money

In its caucus meeting on March 31, the Albany Common Council decided not to press directly for the release of personnel records of fired police Cmdr. Christian D’Alessandro [“Tough Questions Continue,” Newsfront, April 1].

Council members heard an opinion from their legal counsel, Barbara Samel, who said that while they were entitled to the records, it would doubtless take a long and expensive court battle to receive them, and even then the records may not contain the information the council is interested in: whether or not D’Alessandro can be considered a whistle-blower for his activities questioning overtime and recordkeeping practices [“The Whole Truth?,” Newsfront, March 25].

Several council members expressed concern about taking on an arbitration role that would be better left to the courts. “Do we want to become a labor relations board?” asked council Majority Leader Jim Sano (Ward 9).

“Once we get this information, [the people] will want us to make a decision,” noted Councilwoman Carolyn McLaughlin (Ward 2). “Are we the courts?” D’Alessandro is expected to file a lawsuit against the city for wrongful termination.

But the possibility of whistle-blowing still concerned much of the council. “There’s a big difference between hearing from a disgruntled employee (and we haven’t heard from the employee) [and hearing] from the community who had a concern about whistle-blowing,” said Councilwoman Shawn Morris (Ward 7). “I am not interested in vindicating either side; I’m interested in whether there are overtime issues costing this city a lot of money.”

The council decided to follow Councilman Jim Scalzo’s (Ward 10) suggestion to “follow the money. If D’Alessandro is exonerated during that,” then that’s fine, he said, later noting that none of these issues would have come to light if it weren’t for the furor over D’Alessandro’s firing.

The council did agree to continue seeking memos written by D’Alessandro regarding overtime that would not be considered part of his personnel file. They will also work closely with Albany Comptroller Thomas Nitido as he seeks to audit police records.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Taking it another step: Aaron Mair in pursuit of voters’ rights. Photo by: John Whipple

Primary Day, Take Three

Amid heated arguments of what constitutes voters’ rights, the rescheduled special primary election for the county legislator in Albany’s district 3 takes place today (Thursday).

The election was rescheduled after hearings that looked into the large numbers of absentee ballots collected by campaign workers for the challenger, Jestin Williams, and allegations that those workers had improperly filled out applications for ballots—perhaps even ballots—for voters, some of whom did not qualify for absentee voting [“Primary, Primary Again,” Newsfront, March 25].

Williams is furious about having to do the election again. He said the incumbent, Wanda Willingham, is “trying to keep the people from their right to vote.

“We did nothing wrong. . . . We have nothing to apologize for,” he said. “We stood up for the rights of people who wanted to vote absentee.”

But there are those who disagree, and last Friday Willingham, the NAACP, and others filed a lawsuit against Williams, his campaign manager Jamie Gilkey, other campaign workers, the Albany County Board of Elections and the Albany Housing Authority, for whom Gilkey and two other defendants work. The lawsuit, along with the allegations about improper use of absentee ballots, charges a pattern of economic intimidation in which Housing Authority residents were approached by city employees who had power over their housing situation and were coerced to vote in certain ways.

This, said Arbor Hill activist Aaron Mair, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, is nothing new. “It’s bigger than the county race,” he said. It’s about getting at a widespread pattern of fraud in the county, he said, which came to public light only because of the compressed time cycle of the special elections.

Williams insisted the lawsuit is frivilous. “They won’t get away with it,” he said. “Come April 8, the people are going to have their say.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

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