April 10, 2015
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—As New York City’s building tradesmen and tradeswomen engage the City for the opportunity to build-out Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new affordable housing stock, the New York City District Council of Carpenters is exerting political pressure to make sure they don’t get squeezed out.
Steve McInnis has been the carpenters’ president for almost three years. His grandfather was a dock builder and his father and many of his relatives have worked as carpenters in the City. McInnis has over 20 years with the district council, 15 of them as political director.
He describes his career with the carpenters in good jest.
“It’s like being in a family; sometimes it’s a dysfunctional family, but it’s a family as it is— you have good times and bad times but we always stick together and work hard,” said McInnis.
Probably the carpenters’ biggest political fight currently, as with many other building trades, is being able to build the majority of the 80,000 new units of affordable housing called for by the Mayor. But they haven’t received any guarantees from City Hall, despite numerous protests. Just last week, the Build Up New York coalition organized a rally outside City Hall calling for the administration to produce good jobs at affordable housing construction sites.
“We’re kind of squeezed out of the debate right now. There are developers looking to the public largesse to help them build their projects, but without any accompanying labor language, which places our members at a disadvantage,” McInnis said.
He noted that while building service workers represented by 32BJ SEIU earn their prevailing rate when a developer benefits from the state’s 421-a tax abatement program (the controversial program that gives a tax break to developers to construct new buildings in exchange for a portion of their housing being reserved for low- and middle-income renters. But opponents claim that developers are being rewarded for creating mostly market-rate apartments), construction workers do not.
While that political battle rages, nonetheless McInnis said that the district council’s 21,000 members are seeing an uptick in work.
“The amount of hours our members are working today is probably up around 20 to 30 percent from two years ago. There’s a lot more opportunity for our guys out there right now.”
And while the district council and City Hall don’t see eye-to-eye on affordable housing, they’ll benefit from two recent announcements from City Hall. On March 2, the de Blasio administration and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York reached a project labor agreement, covering $3.5 billion of work and repairs at the New York City Housing Authority over the next three years. And then on March 31 the Mayor and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer announced $3 billion in federal funds to repair and protect 33 Superstorm Sandy-damaged NYCHA developments throughout the city.
Regarding the recently passed N.Y. State Budget, McInnis noted the district council had hoped that the governor would have set aside more money for the MTA to fill the $15 billion gap it says its needs for its next five-year capital plan. Also, he expressed frustration with the design-build contracting program, which the Governor touts as the most effective and efficient process to complete big projects on time while saving tax dollars. But McInnis said the result has been a rush to market by builders who are cutting corners. In fact, Susan Kent, president of the Public Employees Federation, told an assembly hearing in December that the program benefits only big out-of-state companies, but not local or small construction companies.
But McInnis noted that the district council was pleased to hear that the budget calls for capital improvements to the Tappan Zee Bridge and Kosciuszko Bridge.