Unions make the American Dream come true, but when the Service Employees International Union wanted to unionize workers at the American Dream Mall, two of them got fired.
Varela and Teran were fired on June 26, 2022, being notified of their dismissal in a text message from Shirley Cabrera, HSA Cleaning’s assistant director of operations.
After Brent Garren, a lawyer representing SEIU Local 32 BJ, the 145,000-member property services local serving the eastern seaboard, lodged a complaint the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a federal petition against HSA Cleaning.
The agency is alleging that the two employees were “discharged in retaliation for their efforts to organize on behalf of 32BJ, SEIU,” and that the termination of Varela and Teran would undermine efforts to form a union at the American Dream Mall.
The NLRB filed a case in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.
The NLRB’s petition asks the court to reinstate Varela and Teran to their jobs, expunge any personnel records related to their termination, and bar HSA from retaliating against employees for union activity for the next six months.
“The NLRB’s request of injunctive relief from a federal court is the first step towards justice for Jose Teran and Luis Varela and all workers at American Dream Mall,” said Kevin Brown, New Jersey state director for 32BJ SEIU. “The fact that HSA stifled our union’s organizing efforts is inexcusable.”
About 35 protestors rallied in front of the mall over the firing of Jose Teran and Luis Varela, two cleaning workers that wanted to unionize but who were terminated instead.
“I was surprised, I wasn’t expecting this. They did it with a text message and it was a big shock to me,” Varela told News 12 New Jersey.
The complaint alleged that the corporation illegally: 8(a)(3) Changes in Terms and Conditions of Employment; 8(a)(1) Coercive Actions (Surveillance, etc); and 8(a)(1) Coercive Rules.
Organizing efforts at the mall date back to June 2022, but workers faced mistreatment by their supervisors at HSA Cleaning.
Teran served as a de facto spokesperson to management to address worker’s grievances and worked with union organizers up until his termination, according to the complaint.
Employees Teran talked with spoke of “the constant harassment and threats they endured,” according to the suit. Varela, while involved with soliciting support for the union drive, learned that management was looking for “excuses to fire him,” according to the complaint.
The firing of Varela and Teran is the latest in a series of labor disputes at the American Dream Mall.
In 2021, a group of workers filed a lawsuit against the mall, alleging that they were subjected to poor working conditions and wage theft.
A Passaic County woman filed a lawsuit against the owners and managers of the East Rutherford mall, alleging she was sexually harassed for more than a year and then fired when she complained.
Kristen Kruczowy, who had been employed as a senior copywriter since February 2021, alleged in the lawsuit that American Dream co-owners Paul and Don Ghermezian, promoted a “discriminatory atmosphere,” and they, along with mall supervisor Jason Hammer, intentionally treated women as inferior, and then retaliated against her.
The 40-year-old woman states in court papers that “she did not feel safe at work” after several instances of sexual misconduct that included unwanted touching, discriminatory comments and retaliation.
Labor disputes at the American Dream Mall are a reminder that workers’ rights are still under attack in the United States, but the NLRB’s petition and the recent rally are signs that workers are fighting back.