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Battle Over Jay Street Hi-Rise Continues

NEW YORK, N.Y.—Building-trades workers picketed the CIM Group’s offices in midtown Manhattan March 27, demanding that the private-equity firm hire union contractors on a luxury-apartment building it’s developing near the Brooklyn waterfront.

Cement & Concrete workers continue to push for union jobs at 85 Jay Street.

“Call CIM and tell them to sit down with the union and responsible contractors,” Joe Scopo, head organizer of District Council 16 of the Cement and Concrete Workers, told the about 50 workers and supporters outside CIM’s offices on East 55th Street near Madison Avenue.

The Los Angeles-based firm has become increasingly involved in New York City’s real-estate market over the past several years, as developer of the 1,395-foot condominium tower at 432 Park Ave.—the tallest residential building in the world—and the planned Two Bridges development on the Chinatown waterfront, which is facing a legal challenge from neighborhood residents. Building-trades unions have been picketing the Brooklyn site, a 732-apartment mix of condos and rentals that will occupy a full block at 85 Jay St. in Dumbo, for the past year.

“We want to take the fight to one of their front offices,” Scopo told LaborPress. “They hire irresponsible contractors.”

The unions charge that CIM regularly hires nonunion contractors with a record of wage theft and fatal accidents. At 85 Jay St., say Scopo and District Council 16 organizer Michael Arena, general contractor New Line Structures and foundation subcontractor East Coast Drilling (ECD) have a long history of violations. 

For one, says Scopo, “their flag guys aren’t trained.” Union flagmen have to take a 10-hour training class to learn how to direct traffic adjacent to a construction site, he explains, and picketers at 85 Jay St. have seen flagmen not using the proper signals—and sometimes, trucks backing into the site without anyone signaling. 

A ramp that concrete trucks drove up and down had huge cracks in the side, says Arena. A supervisor refused to give a harness to a worker on top of a 50-foot wall. Neighbors have complained about construction starting at 4 in the morning and on Sunday, without the required permits.

Union tradesmen picket outside CIM Group offices in midtown.

Buildings Department records show 47 complaints about the site since December 2017. The department has issued six violations, including improper excavation and failure to put guardrails around the excavation, since last July. All but one have been resolved, and the improper excavation drew a $620 fine. The one still outstanding and deemed “immediately hazardous” was issued Feb. 11 for the ramp being too steep. A hearing is scheduled for May 20. 

On the unions’ Web site, a Spanish-speaking former worker at 85 Jay St. says he had to work in contaminated soil without protection, and was then fired for talking to a union representative at the site.

The site is part of the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program. The state Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that at least 72,000 cubic yards of soil contaminated with lead and semi-volatile organic compounds will have to be removed.

“We’re not against the workers,” says Arena. “It’s the way they’re treated.”

“We’re in a solidarity movement,” says Scopo. “We want prevailing wage and safer working conditions for all. We’re against greedy developers who want to cut out the middle class.”

The picketers chanted in call and response, “The American way!” “Union way!” “The only way!” “Union way!” At one point, a handful tried to enter the building lobby through the revolving door, but were blocked by a man in a black suit.

Scopo told the rally they would continue picketing at 85 Jay St. on Tuesdays and at CIM’s Manhattan offices on Wednesdays.

“They don’t want this in their faces,” he said. “That’s why we’re doing it.”

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