September 11, 2013
By Steven Wishnia
Wearing jeans and work boots, one man in a gray shirt and tie, one woman in a lime-green Local 374 T-shirt, dozens of construction workers lined up outside an auditorium at Columbia University on the morning of Sept. 10, ready to apply for jobs building the university's new Manhattanville campus in West Harlem.
"I've been unemployed for 18 months," said Millie Soltero, 53, a member of Local 1974 of the Drywall Tapers and Pointers of Greater New York who was one of the first on line. She joined the union in 1980 and is now the oldest woman in the local.
The fair was open to members of the building-trades unions. Because of the project's community benefits agreement, members who live in the 15 zip codes of Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx get priority for jobs on it, said Carlyle Paul, a council representative for the New York City District Council of Carpenters. Once inside, they could apply directly for jobs with the three main contractors and more than 25 subcontractors.
"They really do hire the people who come down," said John R. Jongebloed, membership advancement coordinator for the District Council of Carpenters. Some, he added, "could be hired on the spot."
The university has begun demolishing old buildings on the 17-acre site, between Broadway and 12th Avenue and West 125th and West 133st streets, and started the foundation of a new science center. It plans to add an arts center, a new home for the Columbia Business School, an academic conference center, and housing for graduate students and faculty.
The expansion encountered significant opposition in the neighborhood, as it forced several businesses to close, and residents feared it would drive up rents and displace more than 5,000 people. The community-benefits agreement
was part of the deal that won it approval from the city.
Jongebloed praised Columbia for following the agreement. "They're looking to put our members to work, and really looking to put minorities and women and local residents to work," he said.
Also at the event were pre-apprenticeship programs like BuildingWorks and NEW, Nontraditional Employment for Women. BuildingWorks, working with the Carpenters' Labor Technical College, provides safety and other training. It recommends graduates to the building-trades unions, and if they're accepted, they bypass the lottery used to set places on the waiting list for apprenticeship programs. Most go into the carpenters and electricians, said program coordinator Christopher Howell. NEW is a free six-week training program attended by 400 to 500 women a year, said tradeswoman readiness manager Denise Doyle.
"Women are the minority and we need work," said Lucille Reid, a 46-year-old carpenter next to Soltero at the front of the line. "We don't get it like the men. The union needs to address that." A member of Local 157 who lives
in the neighborhood, she's been out of work for two years.
"I hope I get the job," said Soltero.