The Other Side
of the Street
workers target Goldman Sachs
By Kim Phillips-Fein
Manhattan is home to the stars of the '90s boom: investment banks taking
the latest dot - com miracles public; stock markets where wealth multiplies
seemingly by magic; number crunchers inventing ever more complex derivatives.
Here sits the Fed, always prepared to bail out a hedge fund or slow a
crash. Here, the brokerages trade trillions across the globe, all squashed
together in these few skinny blocks jutting out into the Hudson.
But there remains a grittier side. Once, the tip of the island was the
heart of working - class New York, home to the harbor, wholesale markets
and innumerable small factories. Today, though the economy has shifted,
it remains the workplace for tens of thousands of New Yorkers who bus
restaurant tables, clean office buildings and sit behind cash registers.
While the surging stock market is a symbol of the new economy, Wall Street
is also the site of a union fight reminiscent of the New Deal: Food service
workers at many of New York's most prominent investment banks are starting,
despite formidable resistance, to join unions.
One of these struggles is being waged at 85 Broad Street, the headquarters
of investment banking firm Goldman Sachs - one of the oldest private partnerships
on Wall Street until it went public last year. Goldman has long prided
itself on its cohesive corporate culture (dubbed the "culture of success"
in a hagiography of the company published last year). In legend at least,
the firm is supposed to hire bright Ivy League grads who are trained to
subordinate their individual ambitions to the corporate good - for which
they are rewarded mightily.
But the myth of company solidarity excludes the 115 workers in Goldman's
dining room and cafeterias, who labor long days for an average wage of
less than $9 an hour. The majority are immigrants from Latin America.
Many have worked at Goldman for years. Their meager wages are supplemented
by piddling benefits: The company's health plan costs $45 a week for family
coverage, a hefty price for workers barely earning above the poverty line.
Employment is fairly stable, but workers can be fired at will. Workers
say their managers are frequently unreasonable, insulting and abusive.
Customers can sometimes be demeaning as well. As Julio Morel, a longtime
employee, puts it, "These people see you every day. But to them you are
nothing. You are only a servant because they have money."
For all these reasons - and most of all, "because it gives you the freedom
to express your rights," says Pedro Acosta, who has worked at Goldman
Sachs for four years - workers want to join Local 100 of the Hotel Employees
and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE). Last summer, an overwhelming majority
of the workers signed an open petition in favor of running a card - check
election for the union. But they've been stonewalled by the firm - even
though Goldman Sachs' partners made $3.5 billion in their IPO last year.
In These Times ©
Vol. 24, No. 14