NYC building workers garner recognition

“We have four generations here tonight,” 87-year-old Hazel Ingram announced, after receiving the Legacy Award.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

They help other people’s lives run smoothly and they often are doing the dirty work. They are unsung heroes and so often overlooked. That’s what made the evening so special.

The evening’s honorees are real working people: doormen, cleaners, window washers, security officers and building engineers. They were heralded that evening by writer Jimmy Breslin as the civilized ones in New York and acknowledged with the utmost respect by former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson, both champions of workers.

On Thursday, Oct. 21, at the headquarters of Union 32BJ SEIU in Manhattan, the fourth Building Service Workers of the Year Awards took place. The recipients work in residential, commercial and school buildings, theaters, stadiums, and arenas.

Union Vice-President Lenore Friedlaenders said during the ceremony, “Some of our award recipients work with and around celebrities. Sometimes they’re pushed, often overlooked. Tonight, they are our celebrities.” In all, 23 32BJ members were honored.

Among those, Crown Heights resident, Ronald Williams, who has worked for 27 years at Cadman Towers, received the Brooklyn Residential Building Worker Award. The same babies he’s seen born, he’s seen have babies. It was noted that he gives out birthday cards.

Eighty-seven year old Hazel Ingram received the Longevity award. She has never missed a day of work in her 54 years as a cleaner in a Madison Avenue building. Georgia-born, granddaughter of a slave, Ingram rode the back of the bus as she traveled to the north. Her bio astounded the audience. She was slightly injured in a demonstration in Houston, Texas three years ago when the police charged on horses. With the Union, she protested for janitors who were being paid only $5.30 an hour. Holding a bouquet of flowers and emanating grace and tenacity, three generations of her family watched when she received her award.

Building manager Victor Nazrio is an example of the growth potential the Union offers. He received the Green Award for his work retrofitting his E 36th St. residential building with environmentally friendly lighting, plumbing and windows, making his building green. As a much younger man and a doorman, he wanted to do more and asked Ramirez, his building’s manager how to become one.

While working, Nazrio attended Thomas Shortman Training School and learned plumbing, carpentry and electrical work and all about boilers that has led to his work, for over 20 years, as a building manager. He told the packed room of well-wishers, “I’m 52 and I still take classes (at the same school, in ‘greening’ buildings).” He is a walking testimonial for how further training can change people’s lives.

Among the others who received awards, East Side Residential Award recipient Dominick Torres saved the lives of two people in his building who celebrated with him at the ceremony. Also recognized were Upper West Side Building Superintendent Ivan Rivera who works in the building he was born and window washer Marvin Abram, also a Baptist minister. Torres left a job in Wall Street to work in buildings.

Many of the recipients are New York City born; many are foreign born. Their lives outside of work are filled with home, family, and personal passions: sports, dancing, union activism. Some of the recipients were eloquent, some reserved. Roy Jansson’s wife danced up to the podium to express her excitement for his winning Best Doorman of the West Side Award; the two are ballroom teachers and champs.

All in all, it was a lively, sometimes irreverent but always joyful evening for family, friends, union big brass, politicians and award recipients of the 2010 Building Workers of the Year. Winners were selected based on nominations from co-workers, employers, building residents, family and friends. What they all had in common is their unflinching commitment to their job, co-workers, and the people they service. The NYC metro area 32BJ membership is 70,000 members. In eight states and Washington DC, the Union has 120,000 members.

Brunhilda Leon, Midtown office cleaner with Union Secretary-Treasurer Hector Figeroua.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

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