May 2, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – A powerful group of building trade organizations and elected officials – including a trio of mayoral candidates – is calling for new legislation that could soon make good jobs a prerequisite to building anywhere within the five boroughs. (Watch Video)
Huge developers like Starwood Capital, The Moinian Group and Acadia Realty, currently benefit from generous public subsidies. But critics charge that the jobs resulting from their construction projects are increasingly substandard, and a drain on the community, while the buildings themselves are shoddy.
“Money is coming from the public, it should go back to the public,” said Daniel Walcott, director of special projects for the New York City District Council of Carpenters. “It’s the way things have been done for many years in the city, and that’s the way they should continue. It’s not a race to the bottom. It’s a race to the top, and to quality. That’s what we’re looking for.”
The New York City District Council of Carpenters is a member of Build Up NYC, a broad-based coalition of 200,000 private sector union members advocating for the kind of responsible development that not only benefits wealthy CEOs, but blue collar men and women as well.
On Tuesday, members of the coalition rallied next to City Hall, vowing to push through new legislation that changes the way business is done in New York City.
“There ought to be a law,” Build Up NYC President Garry LaBarbara said. “We are tired of developers reaping the benefits and putting nothing back into communities. It is time that we change the way the city does business. We want a law that protects our members and our communities. We want to be able to go to work and make decent wages. We want healthcare, and we want dignity in our retirement. It’s not right that only rich developers get richer, and we struggle day in and day out.”
Several projects currently underway throughout the city exemplify the kind of inequitable arrangement that Build Up NYC hopes to correct with a new law. One of them is Starwood Capital’s mixed-use condominium/hotel project being developed inside Brooklyn Bridge Park at Pier 1.
“Starwood got a special deal,” Local 740 representative Maria Espinal said. “They get to build a luxury condo and hotel project on the waterfront in a public park. They have been given the right to lease the land from the city. And they don’t have to pay property taxes. Instead, they will make a payment in lieu of taxes that will be used to keep up the park. Basically, it’s money that goes right back to taking care of their own property. Imagine, if I wanted to live on the water’s edge in a public park. The city wouldn’t let me. And they certainly wouldn’t give me a pass on paying my taxes by agreeing to let me pay to keep up my own house.”
Last week, Walcott and the rest of Build Up NYC delivered a barrel full of petitions to the offices of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Board on Furman Street, urging them to stand up for good jobs.
A spokesperson for the group told LaborPress that “Brooklyn Bridge Park Continues to work with the developer to encourage and facilitate constructive dialogue with the unions as the project progresses.”
Lenore Friedlaender, vice-president of 32BJ, said that a new law is needed because too many fat cat developers are exploiting existing loopholes at the expense of the community at large.
“Developers like Starwood are the first in line with their hand out to get public pension fund investments,” Friedlaender said. “They want that money, but they don’t want to give anything back to us. We can’t say that we want our tax dollars to only fix the pothole on our block. So, if you get public money in any form, there ought to be a law. We don’t pay taxes just to make some corporations or CEOs richer than they already are.”
New York City Comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu reiterated his support for new development, but stressed that any economic recovery must benefit the city as a whole.
“Not like the last time,” Liu said. “The last time, the top one-percent saw their incomes go through the roof. Everybody else stayed pretty much the same, and barely kept pace with inflation.”
A newly released New York Building Congress study finds that the average wage earned by construction workers in the private sector remained flat through most of 2012. According to the group’s president, Richard Anderson, that stagnation is largely indicative of the overall U.S. job market, as well as reflecting, “The collective impact of the union contracts signed in 2011, recent project-labor agreements and the increasing use of lower-wage nonunion labor throughout the City."
Public Advocate and mayoral contender Bill de Blasio said that taxpayer money should be used to “uplift people.”
“It should support the union movement that’s given us the middle class,” de Blasio said. “It’s the only thing protecting the middle class today.”
New York City Councilwomen Gail Brewer, Liz Crowley, Margaret Chin and Letitia James, joined Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn in putting deep-pocketed developers like Starwood Capital, The Moinian Group and Acadia Realty on notice.
“Your days of getting taxpayer money and then not paying decent wages are over,” Quinn said. “We will do whatever needs to be done to make those days a thing of the past in the five boroughs. Every dollar that we invest, we invest to create economic development. And when we create economic development, we’re working to create middle class jobs. We’re not working to create substandard jobs and we’re not investing to create crappy buildings. Crappy buildings and substandard wages get done by non-union employers.”
Build Up NYC plans to hold its next rally at Brooklyn Bridge Park on June 5.