May 20, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Hundreds of buildings tradespeople pounded on mock coffins and chanted “How many more must die?”outside a Gilbane, Inc. development at 118 Fulton Street on Thursday afternoon, in a mass protest aimed at both convincing the developer to stop using irresponsible contractors — and honoring New York City construction workers recently killed on the job.
“Gilbane is playing both sides of the fence,” NYC District Council of Carpenters Organizer Tammy Rivera told LaborPress. “He knows that it’s better to have qualified, trained workers building safely — but at the same time, it’s also about his pocket. He has irresponsible contractors hiring workers — some of them are not getting trained safely, so they cut corners and there are casualties — and it just becomes a domino effect.”
Gilbane’s decision to go non-union on Fulton Street and other building projects around the city is particularly galling to members of New York’s Building Trades because, up until now they say Gilbane has largely acted responsibly in the city.
“A company like Gilbane doesn’t care about anything except money,” Chaz Rynkiewicz, organizing director, Local 79 Construction and General Building Laborers, said. “So, they will do whatever they can to lower the standards of workers if it’s more profit in their pockets. But we will continue to bring pressure and I definitely believe that our pressure will prevail because what we’re doing is right. What they’re doing is wrong. There’s plenty of money out there to pay a fair salary with medical coverage and proper training. They’re not doing that, but they did it in the past.”
Founded way back in 1873, Gilbane, Inc. is considered a giant in the construction industry, reaping nearly $4 billion in annual sales. With an estimated fortune worth $1.4 billion, the Gilbane family itself is ranked among the 150 richest families in the United States.
Despite its much-touted “ethical culture,” however, critics insitst Gilbane has a history of allegedly violating federal wage and hour laws, as well as other basic workers’ rights.
A non-union construction worker protesting on Thursday afternoon told LaborPress that he is owed overtime pay and feels unsafe on the job.
“Across the United States Gilbane has a pretty slimy record,” Rynkiewicz added. “Now, he’s trying to go that way in New York City, too.”
A spokesperson for Gilbane told LaborPress that the company is proud of its successful work to prevent worksite injuries, and said that 95 percent of Glibane projects had recorded zero lost-time injuries in 2015.
"Gilbane's overriding focus is on constructing quality buildings in New York State, with a safe, productive and engaged workforce," the spokesperson said in an e-mail. "We employ both union and non-union labor to meet this objective and successfully build projects according to the high standards clients and our partners expect from Gilbane."
The mock coffins and grim reaper that haunted Fulton Street during this week’s rally, recalled the alarming number of construction worker deaths that have occured at mostly non-union job sites around New York City — some 17 fatalities over the last year.
“We don’t want to go home in those boxes,” Rynkiewicz said. “We work hard we want to work safe so we can get to go home to our families.”
Two weeks ago, members of the buildings trades rallied outside a Gilbane construction site on Broadway and Exchange Place, in which they vowed to pressure Gilbane, Inc. principal William Gilbane III until he “comes on board and does the right thing by the workers of New York City.”
This week, River renewed the promise.
“When push comes to shove, we’re going to fight — we’re not going to back down,” she said.