October 17, 2014
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—The building trades were out in force outside City Hall on Wednesday afternoon because they want the City Council to deny a real estate developer from developing Astoria Cove unless the developer agrees to hiring union members that includes living wages.
Some pundits have been saying that the battle over whether to grant or deny Alma Realty the right to develop Astoria Cove, a four-tower residential development with more than 1,600 apartments, is a litmus test for Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan. In fact, only 20 percent of the 1,600 apartments are slated for affordable housing.
Building tradesmen and women, as well as building and hotel workers who make up the Build Up NYC coalition, say the City Council shouldn’t approve the project on Monday because Alma has a history of hiring contractors who don’t pay their workers equally.
If the City Council votes yea it would clear the last hurdle for Alma Realty to start construction, after the City Planning Commission approved the massive project on September 29.
According to Gary LaBarbera, president of the New York City Building and Construction Trades, the company has a history of hiring contractors who in turn pay tiered wages based on their workers’ ethnicity.
The Daily News reported on September 26, 2014 that SSC High Rise Construction was ordered by the state Supreme Court to pay $1.6 million in back wages for overtime in 2011 because the company paid white workers $25 an hour, black workers $18 an hour and Latino workers $15 an hour.
In the accompanying video, LaBarbera said that racially tiered wages Alma is paying is just the tip of the iceberg.
“They have problems in Far Rockaway in their buildings where they don’t want to give the workers a contract and they treat them unfairly, and they want to really push them out of a job. It’s unbelievable [that they are paying] a tiered-wage scale based on race and color. That’s disgusting and it’s unacceptable,” said LaBarbera.
Now if the City Council doesn’t approve the project, LaBarbera said there’s still hope for Alma Realty.
“It’s not too late for them. All they need to do is sit down with the building trades and 32BJ and come to terms on an agreement that makes sense. Build this project union, create jobs and be a good corporate citizen. But if they continue to resist, we’ll continue to urge the City Council to vote no, a red light on this project,” LaBarbera said.
We interviewed Maria Espinal, a nine-year millwright and of Dominican Republic heritage, to get her reaction to Alma’s history of paying racially tiered wages.
“I don’t even know what that is. We’ve gone through so many issues in this country; you’d think that we’d be beyond that. But no, those things still go on,” said Espinal.
The tradesmen and women, as well as hotel and building workers will be outside City Hall again early Monday morning as the City Council takes up the debate at 10 AM.