June 14, 2013
By Steven Wishnia
Chanting “Whose work? Our work!” more than 200 union construction workers blocked traffic in Lower Manhattan in a lunch-hour protest June 12, loudly demanding that developer SL Green stop using nonunion labor on a college dormitory it just started nearby.
SL Green, a major commercial-property firm that owns some of Manhattan’s best-known office buildings, has hired contractor New Line Structures to build a 34-story dormitory at 33 Beekman St. for Pace University. The building is SL Green’s first nonunion project, says Lenny Anselmo of Laborers Local 79, and New Line is “notorious for cheating workers.”
“We’ve gotta put a stop to it. We can’t let this happen,” George Zecca, president of Local 79’s Manhattan board, told the workers as they blocked Church Street, about two blocks north of the World Trade Center rebuilding site, blowing piercing whistles while four giant inflatable rats lined the curb. SL Green is the biggest developer in the city that uses union labor, he went on, and there’s a billion dollars worth of nonunion construction in Lower Manhattan.
SL Green “just completed the same building 100-percent union,” Zecca told LaborPress, referring to a similar dormitory at 180 Broadway. Nonunion construction workers in the city typically make $12 to $15 an hour with no benefits, while “our guys are getting $35-60.”
SL Green’s public-relations firm said the company “will probably not want to comment.” A Pace spokesperson said the university was “simply the tenants at the property.”
“Hopefully, we’re going to get it resolved and people will do the right thing. You can’t live in this city on 15 bucks an hour,” Zecca said.
After about 15 minutes, the protesters left the street. But more similar hit-and-run protests are planned, union leaders say, and the 2,000 workers at the Ground Zero site provide a ready crowd.
“All these guys are right there, and they’re getting fed up with all the bullshit that’s going on,” said New York State Iron Workers organizer Eddie Jorge.