Members of a city brickwork union rallied on Monday outside City hall to stop their city construction projects from hitting a brick wall.
Over the past several years the city’s School Construction Authority and Department of Design and Construction, two major sources of union brick projects, have shifted gears to planning projects using precast concrete panels that are imported from out of state instead of using brick, according to Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers Local Union No. 1.
“They have a huge portfolio of construction and we’ve been marginalized through this whole thing where we’re being pushed out because they want to use panels, and it really doesn’t make any sense,” said the union’s political director Bill Nagle.
The union said the panels cost virtually the same as hand-set brick and block, but the shift is causing the elimination of over a thousand good-paying and union jobs from working class New Yorkers. In addition, the process of manufacturing and shipping the panels produces a significantly higher CO2 footprint than brick and block.
“We just want to continue the work that we got with the SCA all these years,” said Jack Argila, president of BAC Local 1.
In response, the union has worked with several Councilmembers to draft a resolution that would get DDC to commit to using brick and block for construction. Council Resolution 547 introduced by Councilmember Carmen De La Rosa, with support from seven other Council colleagues, urges the SCA and DDC to stop building local schools and community centers with precast concrete panels that are prefabricated and trucked to NYC from factories in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Connecticut.
The resolution states that several top block manufacturers are located in New York state including one block manufacturer in New York City, Glenwood Masonry Supply in East Flatbush. None of the top precast concrete panel manufacturers on the other hand are located in New York.
“For me, primarily, this is a union jobs issue. This is what this is about. I love the state of Ohio. I love Connecticut. I love Pennsylvania. I just don’t wanna export our jobs to them, export our money to them,” said Councilmember Jim Genarro at the rally.
Given the local job opportunities afforded by brick construction, the resolution asserts that the shift to precast concrete conflicts with an executive order Mayor Adams issued last year that directs city agencies to tailor opportunities to support employment of city residents.
A 2022 study by Pinnacle Economics on the impacts of construction materials in NYC school construction concluded that, for every $1 million expenditure on handset brick and block walls, it generates an additional $1.25 million in the city economy.
Yet despite the purported economic benefits, SCA has shifted almost exclusively to precast concrete. According to Nagle, the next 20 or so projects that SCA has planned are all using panels that are imported from out of state.
“Brick and block is still in our standards and we utilize it when appropriate based on the building and the site,” said SCA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz. He added that the agency’s capital plan includes hundreds of building improvement projects that currently employ bricklayers.
A DDC spokesperson said the agency allows designers and consultants to select the best construction method on a case by case basis. Precast construction in some cases is faster and more efficient and requires less maintenance, the spokesperson added.
The resolution was introduced at the Council’s stated meeting at the beginning of April.
“We’re going to fight this and we’re going to make sure that we get this done for you all,” said De La Rosa.