According to the employees, the elevators constantly have problems, from getting stuck between floors to opening halfway. As a result, workers have had to make a choice between staying in the unreliable elevators or even crawling out while they’re stuck.
The attorneys say they’ve spoken to management and the building’s landlord, Abraham Leser, about the issue for years. But after daily incidents, they’ve had enough.
Last Wednesday, dozens of Legal Aid employees protested in front of the building during their lunch hour. They carried signs and chanted to demand safer working conditions for them and their clients.
Mike Pate, a staff attorney, said they might not see real improvements until 2020.
“Our jobs are hard enough,” he said. “Do we really need the stress of riding on an elevator that’s comparable to The Cyclone at Coney Island? It’s getting ridiculous.”
The rally was meant to send a message to management to “step up,” and for the landlord to either maintain or replace the elevators. Pate said in meetings, representatives have been condescending, patronizing or non-responsive to their demands.
The landlord, Pate said, has even told the attorneys and their union, UAW Local 2325, that there’s no need to worry.
“They’re essentially putting a band-aid on something that is bleeding to death,” Pate said. “This is an adventure. It’s like playing roulette, which door do you feel lucky?”
The 21-story building has eight elevators, all of which has problems, Pate said. Legal Aid Society occupies six stories, and other tenants include the New York State Workers Compensation Board.
According to Department of Buildings (DOB) records, 111 Livingston Street has 22 open violations. An Environmental Control Board (ECB) hearing on the malfunctioning elevators is scheduled for Monday, September 17, at 8:30 a.m.
Leser purchased the building in 1995, according to reports. Last year, his firm, Leser Group, refinanced with a $120 million loan from both Citigroup and Deutsche Bank, according to property records.
Pate said if the landlord was able to take out a $120 million loan, he could have fixed the elevators to alleviate workers’ concerns.
Nicole D’Orazio, a staff attorney at Legal Aid Society’s criminal defense practice, said it’s not just the staff and attorneys who are at risk, it’s also clients, many of whom are children and the elderly.
D’Orazio said they’ve even been told to take the stairs, even though Legal Aid Society is on floors six through eleven.
“Some of our clients, attorneys and staff can’t take the staircase,” she said. “Even then, the staircase is poorly lit and we have to use our iPhones as a flashlight.”
She added that it’s management’s responsibility to either break the lease to find a better, safer space, or push the landlord to fix the elevators sooner. So far, she said, management has done none of those things.
“At this point, does someone have to be injured or killed before something actually changes?” D’Orazio said.
In a statement, The Legal Aid Society said it has been strongly advocating with building management over a host of important issues about elevator maintenance and modernization.
“We take our employees’ safety very seriously,” Legal Aid said, “and will continue to demand that the building management take the necessary steps to ensure that our employees can consistently utilize the elevators without incident.”