Workers and their union, SEIU, fight for housing at “pop-up” Thanksgiving

SAN FRANCISCO – On Nov. 24., SEIU-USSW, along with former Parkmerced employees, organized a pop-up Thanksgiving dinner and rally in front of the main office of Parkmerced. Organizers for the rally explained that it was intended to shine a light on how working-class families are affected negatively this holiday season by the high cost of living in the city and the lack of livable wages.

They attributed some of the problems caused by this growing crises to out-of-town real estate developer Robert Rosania, the chief investor in Parkmerced and contractor for Preferred Building Services, who, in April of this year, played a key role in changing Parkmerced’s janitorial and maintenance contractor to a nonunion one. This change resulted in the replacement of over 30 union jobs with jobs that pay minimum wage with no benefits, sick days or job security.

As People’s World previously reported, SEIU-USSW and former Parkmerced employees have been demonstrating in front of the large housing development for months, demanding that Rosania stop contributing to the affordability crises plaguing San Francisco, and that he reinstate the janitorial and maintenance staff who were fired back in April.

Rosania is also the developer of 1979 Mission St., often called by activists the “Monster in the Mission.” It is a massive, luxury condominium development proposed for the 16th St. Bart Plaza area. Those who oppose the development argue that if built it could mean further displacement of working class families.

This past October, SEIU-USSW and the former Parkmerced employees used their struggle to push for the passing of Proposition I, which was up for a vote on Nov. 3. Prop I was an initiative that would have established an 18-month moratorium on new market-rate housing in the Mission district.

It would have established a temporary 18-month prohibition on the construction of any housing project larger than five units. It was seen by its supporters as a way to combat the growing lack of affordable housing in the area. Despite vocal supporters of the proposition, such as the San Francisco Examiner, the proposition failed to be approved as 57.2 percent of voters voted against the measure and 42.8 percent for.

As SEIU explained in their press release for the rally, “This is ground zero for gentrification in the city as greedy developers take over the once working-class Mission and make it affordable only for the wealthy. Across the City, working San Franciscans are being displaced from the neighborhoods their families have lived in for generations because they can no longer afford housing. Despite all of these obstacles, working people from across the Bay Area are standing in solidarity with Parkmerced workers. Even though Robert Rosania and Preferred Building Services have left these workers out in the cold, we will be joining them for a Thanksgiving feast to give thanks for the spirit of working people and the solidarity that we feel can be a force for change.”

The rally was also supported by the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition, which provided the phone number of Greg Dellanini, the president of Preferred Building Services. The coalition urged people to call the number and say, “Stop the abuse of janitors. Stop ignoring the complaints of workers and meet with them to hear their demands.”

Romilo Domingo, who worked for Parkmerced for 16 years before losing his job in the changeover, explained, “When I was working at Parkmerced, I was making a good living. I could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment where my wife and I could raise our three kids. After I lost my job, I couldn’t afford rent, so we all moved in with my mother. My oldest daughter is starting college and I’d like to be able to help her out. I need my job back.”

Domingo explained that he and his fellow co-workers were forced to take the severance pay offered to them by Parkmerced. He explained that once they were fired they were replaced by workers who were only making the minimum wage in San Francisco ($12.25 an hour) with no benefits, and that he is positive that the janitorial and maintenance staff are only the first targets in Rosania’s union busting actions.

“They’re targeting us now, and in the future it will be other workers,” Domingo explained. “I feel like we are being treated unjustly. We want justice. We’re not giving up. We have bills to pay. I want to work. I want to be a taxpayer. [Parkmerced] has always been a union place to work. It is different now because of greed.”

Photo: Chauncey K. Robinson/PW




Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.