August 22, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Without much tangible evidence to back them up, City Hall keeps insisting that it’s doing its best to make good jobs part of the de Blasio administration’s 200,000-unit affordable housing plan – and now Public Advocate Letitia James has called out the “Tale of Two Cities” mayor and demanded that the administration forget the junk jobs, and build it union.
“I reject the argument that you cannot build affordable housing with union members,” James said at an August 20, affordable housing rally in Harlem. “We can build good, quality, safe housing with union workers. And we demand that this administration build affordable housing – an aggressive program with affordable housing – and make sure that we build it union, respecting union workers.”
James is the highest-ranking elected official in the city to urge Mayor de Blasio to get tough on developers and demand more affordable housing units and good jobs, in exchange for public subsidies.
But the public advocate is by no means alone.
At the August 20, affordable housing rally in Harlem, Bertha Lewis, co-founder of the New York Working Families Party and the former head of ACORN, said “Dirty development has got to stop,” and if it doesn’t, the city should take its business elsewhere.
“Your’e a developer, and you don’t want to pay people a living wage? Step off! You don’t want to build housing for poor people and working people? Step off!”
The administration says that talks with the Building Trades on the central issue of building affordable housing with union labor are continuing.
“Affordable housing and quality jobs are both priorities for this administration, and we’re working to ensure that we’re creating more opportunities in affordable housing programs for the kind of jobs that lift up New Yorkers,” City Hall spokesperson Wiley Norvell later said.
But at Wednesday’s rally, Building and Construction Trades President Gary LaBarbera said “The creation of affordable housing and good union jobs is waning.”
“It is waning for all of us,’ LaBarbera said. “We can no longer tolerate a handful of affordable housing developers getting richer and richer on the backs of exploited workers who can’t even afford to live in their housing.”
Rasul Heatley, a first-year apprentice with Mason Tenders Local 79, and a 30-year resident of Harlem, said that as a non-union worker, he saw other workers exploited, short-chained and injured on the job.
“I’ve seen the cover ups when these non-union sites put up the wrong materials and [the bosses] just say forget about it, keep it moving,” Heatley added. “The last few projects I worked on, I couldn’t even afford to live there.”
Just before the start of this week’s rally, Harlem Special Education teacher and Green Party activist Chris Archer questioned Mayor de Blasio’s true commitment to building affordable housing that also creates good union jobs.
“Bill de Blasio took an enormous amount of money from the real estate industry during his campaign,” Archer said. “So, you have to wonder how beholden people are to their sources of campaign cash when it’s time to make real decisions.”
In calling out the mayor, James fulfilled a promise she made last year, when she vowed to be a progressive check on her “friend and ally” in City Hall.
Not long after becoming the first woman of color to be elected to citywide office in the fall of 2013, James reminded a Ft. Greene assembly that the city had just made “a left turn.”
“And we have to continue on that path of progressive policies in the City of New York,” the then public advocate-elect said. “We need to make sure that Bill de Blasio honors his commitments – the same commitments he made on the campaign trail.”
When asked if the mayor shares the belief with those at this week’s rally in Harlem that one of the best ways to “lift up” New Yorkers is through the creation of good union jobs, Norvell answered with an emphatic, “yes.”