Building Trades Nurture Union Solidarity Outside Hudson Yards

Looking at the gleaming Hudson Yards towers punching holes in the clouds over Manhattan’s West Side at W. 34th St. and 10th Avenue, members of New York City’s unionized Building Trades see their hold on the American Dream hanging in the balance.

“This is a small mirror on what’s happening across the country to the middle-class, Local 638 Steamfitter Brian Hunt told LaborPress at Tuesday’s #CountMeIn demonstration. “And this is a perfect example of the middle class coming together.”

The 36-year-old Long Island City resident has been on the job at Hudson Yards installing bulk piping and fire protection since 2014 — long enough to see those sparkling towers emerge.

But as the massive Hudson Yards Project — the largest private real estate development in United States history — enters Phase II, Hunt finds his future on the project, and the combined futures of his union brothers and sisters in the Building Trades, under threat.

Related Companies, the real estate development giant with a reported $50 billion in worldwide assets, has soured on the Project Labor Agreement it originally entered into with the Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC) covering Phase I of the development.

Earlier this month, Hudson Yard Construction, LLC, went further , filing suit against the BCTC and its president, Gary LaBarbera, alleging a raft of corruption charges that also happen to perfectly mimic other well-worn attempts to malign the Labor Movement throughout history.

Unionized members of the Building Trades who have been rallying outside the Hudson Yards development on Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings as part of the #CountMeIn campaign, view Related’s actions as a naked attempt to build on the cheap utilizing a so-called “open shop” construction model that actually undermines good middle-class jobs and creates a race to the bottom that benefits no one but deep-pocketed developers.

Brooklynite Roberto Baez, a marble finisher with Local 7, said that he feels “blessed” to be part of organized labor, and that his union career has been “life changing.”

“The working class brings the money they earn back to New York City,” the 39-year-old married father of two continued. “It’s not like developers are going to provide discounts [on the money saved on labor]…they are not only cheating workers, but cheating the [economic] system.”

Despite the anger and frustration aimed at Related and its push for junk jobs that shortchange workers doing incredibly difficult and dangerous work, both Baez and Hunt expressed sympathy for poorly compensated non-union construction workers trying to scratch out a living within the so-called “open shop” system.

“I feel for them,” Hunt said. “They say, ‘I wish I could have what you have.’ It’s not the people [that are responsible for the race to the bottom] it’s the unscrupulous contractors.”

Baez said that his 16-years with the union has afforded him opportunities he never would have had as a non-union construction worker.

“Most non-union guys don’t know the importance of being a union member and putting money away for your future,” he said.

Indeed, the Economic Policy Institute [EPI] finds that, on average, union workers across different sectors earn over 13.2 percent more than their non-union counterparts — and that the decline of union density actually lowers wages for all non-union workers as well.

“It’s not just about the dollar amount; but benefits and respect,” Hunt added. “A lot of people try to disparage us. It’s very discouraging when you are being disrespected by the people hiring you.”

Erhan, a 28-year-old striking Charter/Spectrum worker who, along with two other striking co-workers, came out to this week’s #CountMeIn rally at W.34th Street and 10th Avenue in support of their union brothers and sisters in the Building Trades, took aim at the obscene compensation packages corporate heads including Charter/Spectrum CEO Tom Rutledge and Related Companies Founder Stephen Ross command.

Just last year alone, union-busting Tom Rutledge raked in a reported $98 million, while Ross — who also owns the Miami Dolphins — is reportedly worth $7.6 billion.

“I think it’s ridiculous that they are allowed to get away with this,” the striking Charter/Spectrum worker said. “I feel like whoever has the money does whatever they want.”

Hunt said that he has faith the Hudson Yards’ #CountMeIn campaign and the battle for good middle class jobs that enable workers to afford a home and provide for their families, will ultimately succeed.

If not, the young trade unionist lamented, New York City is in danger of “turning into China.”

This article was originally published on Labor Press.

2018-10-18T16:14:16+00:00March 22nd, 2018|News, Union Busting|

Hail the Prevailing Wage!

A prevailing wage has come under attack from advocates looking for something cheaper. And it’s shameful!

This is New York. We don’t do “race to the bottom” here.

We don’t invite in bottom-fishers and corner-cutters to build our buildings. And we don’t scapegoat workers.

That’s because we need the best. So we build the best.

As a Commercial Observer reader, the same goes for you, too.

You don’t “race to the bottom” when it comes to staffing up your brokerage, your development company, or your investment firm.

Yet in the world of public-sector construction, prevailing wage laws have again come under attack from advocates of bottom fishing.

But prevailing wage laws are not just good for construction workers and the agencies undertaking public projects. These laws are also good for all New Yorkers.

For more than a century, New York State has maintained an important and progressive social compact: fair wages for fair work. The pay of workers engaged in public projects must align with local prevailing wage and benefit levels. Hard-working New Yorkers thus have access to good-paying jobs and proper protection from unsafe working conditions.

And with the State’s FY 2018 capital budget exceeding $14 billion, it’s critical to shake off faulty assumptions—and recognize that prevailing wage requirements also save taxpayers money.
New data now show how these rules ensure effective cost management on public projects.

The Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, recently completed a thorough cost-benefit analysis based upon independent, peer-reviewed research. It examined the work of academic economists nationwide who specialize in assessing the impact of prevailing wage laws. The analysis concluded that the policy carries little or no added burden for taxpayers. In fact, such laws increase tax revenues since better-paid construction workers pay more in sales and income taxes.

Similarly, in 2016, the Illinois Economic Policy Institute analyzed peer-reviewed studies nationwide. Seventy-five percent of them found that prevailing wages had “no statistically significant impact” on public costs.

And lower costs per hour for each worker doesn’t automatically lower project costs. This is a logical fallacy, because project costs decline by hiring more-efficient, higher-pay workers. Such workers possess the skills to work faster—and their superior commitment to the job reduces turnover.

Plus, more productive workers are efficient because they’re more likely to possess the skills and sophistication to work with first-class equipment and technologies.

This high-wage, high-skill approach is a common workforce management strategy called “efficiency wages.” It minimizes project cost through superior efficiency and is a basic management concept listed on the syllabus of labor economics courses nationwide.

Indeed, high-paying contractors often place bids on public projects that are not only comparable to bids placed by the bottom fishers, but are even more competitive than the lower-paying alternative.

These policies also protect worker health and safety. Construction work is dangerous: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2016, construction-related professions represented three of the 10 job categories with the highest fatality rate.

On worksites with prevailing wage, workers’ compensation costs are lower and construction injuries are fewer. The policy weeds out unscrupulous and unfit contractors willing to skirt safety laws and expose low-wage workers to unsafe conditions.

Prevailing wages boost living standards, increase in-state hiring, and help many non-college graduates attain middle-class status. These policies help uplift communities—while imposing minimal, if any, cost on taxpayers.

These rules also ease pressure on America’s social safety net. One analysis found that states with no or weak prevailing wage laws spend $360 million more per year on food stamps and Earned Income Tax Credits for their blue-collar construction workers than states with average or strong prevailing wage laws.

Similarly, construction workers in states with strong or average prevailing wage laws contribute more than $5.3 billion more annually in net federal income taxes than their counterparts in states with weak or no prevailing wage laws.

Prevailing wage policies enjoy support nationwide. In February 2017, a survey of 1,000 U.S. voters by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research found that 77 percent supported retention of prevailing wage legislation, while only 23 percent supported its elimination.

So don’t have a knee-jerk reaction. Instead, think holistically about prevailing wage laws. These laws uplift everyone in New York State by ensuring that the value of hard work is rewarded, that dignity is respected, and that every public dollar supports the backbone of our middle class

Gary LaBarbera is the president of the Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.
This article was originally published in the Commercial Observer.

2018-10-18T16:14:49+00:00August 19th, 2016|News, Union Busting|

NYC Building Trades Make a Stand at Biggest Project since Rockefeller Center

New York City building trades unions are in a fight that hits at the very core of their jurisdiction: big commercial office buildings.

At $4 billion and 2.9 million square feet, 50 Hudson Yards will be the city’s most expensive and fourth-largest office building. And it’s just one of 16 skyscrapers slated for Hudson Yards, the largest private real estate development in U.S. history. This sprawling redevelopment of a former railyard is reshaping a section of Manhattan’s West Side, while employing an estimated 23,000 construction workers over the course of a decade.

But after building the first phase of the project union, developer Related is trying to build the rest open shop, meaning a mix of union and non-union contractors.

“If we lose this, that’s going to enable these contractors and developers to hire more and more non-union workers,” says Marvin Tavarez, a journeyman with Sheet Metal Workers Local 28.

Tavarez and other rank and filers from different unions are pushing the notoriously splintered trades to make a united stand. They’ve been building solidarity with 6 a.m. rallies every Thursday outside the site.

“It’s make or break right now,” says Tavarez. “To win, it’s going to require every single trade staying off that job.”

Even if a big project uses non-union workers, it generally requires some union members to get it done. This gives the trades leverage—if they stick together, which they generally don’t.

Thus far, all trades have agreed not to send their members to work on the next phase of Hudson Yards, with one big exception: the Carpenters, whose members are working on the foundations. It’s unclear whether they’ll continue to work, or even take other trades’ work, once the job gets above ground.

Related manages hundreds of millions of dollars of Carpenters pension fund money, and one Carpenters fund was part of an investment group that provided lending to build 10 Hudson Yards.


The developer’s move wouldn’t even have been considered a few years ago, when big commercial projects were built union without question.

But since then, an employer offensive has reshaped New York City construction. Unions are hemorrhaging market share. All of the city’s top general contractors now operate open shop, and several 50-story residential towers are currently being built with non-union workers.

Contractors claim that an all-union project is 20 to 30 percent more expensive than one built open shop. Unions dispute that figure, arguing that increased costs are made up for by their members’ higher skill level.

However, there’s a growing supply of non-union companies and workers with enough skills to do big jobs. Figuring out how to organize them will be critical to restoring the unions’ power in the market.

“Earlier in my career it was a sacrilege to consider nonunion labor,” Scott Resnick, president of the real estate firm SR Capital LLC, told the Wall Street Journal last year. “When I have future jobs I’m going to bid them out, but the big change is that I’ll bid them out union, nonunion and [combined] and see how it goes.”


The trades scored a win earlier this year at One Wall Street, getting the general contractor Gilbane, a top open-shop proponent, removed from the $1.5 billion condo conversion. The new general contractor is building the rest of the project union.

In the One Wall campaign, the unions combined mass lunchtime and after-work rallies with pressure on the project’s lenders, including Deutsche Bank.

An ongoing building boom has kept most of the city’s 100,000 union construction workers employed, cushioning the impact of the growing non-union market. And the trades still control jobs built with public money, like the ongoing rehabilitation work at LaGuardia Airport.

But members are worried about the future. “When this bloom slows down, we’re in big trouble,” says Mike Pierro of Glaziers Local 1087, who’s been working at Hudson Yards since August. He’s been handbilling the site before work for the Thursday morning “Count Me In” rallies.

Union members are also frustrated with concessions they’ve had to eat in order to keep working while the non-union sector continues to grow.

In 2012, when unemployment in the trades was high, Related threatened to use non-union contractors for the first phase of the project. In exchange for a project labor agreement (PLA) it extracted wage and benefit cuts and changes to work rules from unions.

Employers and construction unions negotiate PLAs to set wages and work rules before a large project is bid. PLAs like the one at Hudson Yards generally contain no-strike and no-picketing clauses—limiting the actions that workers already on the site can take, despite their frustrations.

“You’ve got investors from around the world—they have the money—but they nickel and dime us, the workers, the spokes in the wheel,” says John Mele, a delegate with Carpenters Local 157 who’s working on the Hudson Yards retail mall, covered under the PLA.


Now Related is refusing to sign a PLA for the project’s next phase, which includes 50 Hudson Yards and several big residential buildings.

Threatening to build nonunion and playing on existing divisions between the trades, the developer has been trying to get individual unions to agree to work on this next phase anyway. Already the 51-story commercial office tower at 55 Hudson Yards is being built open-shop, with Gilbane as its general contractor.

Related’s joint-venture partner in the Hudson Yards project is Oxford Properties, the real estate arm of the Ontario Municipal Employees’ Retirement System.

How did the Carpenters District Council justify working on 50 Hudson Yards? “When we brought it to the delegate meeting, our leaders told us, ‘When we were on such and such a job at this address, the Latherers were crossing the picket line, the Steamfitters were crossing the picket line,” says Mele, who’s been joining the 6 a.m. rallies and urging his co-workers to do the same.

“I think we should stand with the other unions and try to turn this whole job union,” he says. “If we don’t stand together and send a message on this job, that’s going to weaken us on the next site.”


This article was originally posted on Labor Notes.

2018-10-18T16:14:59+00:00August 18th, 2016|News, Union Busting|

No Turkeys

Union members disrupted Related’s efforts to hand out thousands of free Thanksgiving turkeys to workers at Hudson Yards November 20, spreading the message to refuse the birds via leaflets, social media, and word of mouth.

We said, “These guys are trying to give you a turkey like you’re part of the family—but they’re trying to take your wages and benefits and leave you out of the next job,” said Brian Houser, a third-year apprentice with Elevator Constructors Local 1.

There are about 4,000 construction workers at the Hudson Yards site, but the company ultimately gave out only 200 turkeys—and many of these ended up thrown in a van and donated to the homeless, as workers stood and chanted outside the site.

This article was originally posted on Labor Notes.

2018-10-18T16:15:06+00:00August 17th, 2016|News, Union Busting|
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