May 5, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Non-union construction workers fed up with their employer’s unchecked pattern of mistreatment, favortism and abuse, walked off their Bronx job site in protest earlier this week – and just two days later, some of the most influential labor leaders in the city were rallying at their side on May Day vowing to fight on their behalf.
Carrol Turner, 51, and Ithier Lopez, 26, each bear the ugly scars of their unforgiving trade: bashed knuckles, broken fingertips and punctured palms.
Turner’s hands are a set of leathery mitts topped with oddly-clipped digits, while one of Lopez’s considerably younger fists already displays the nasty spot where a piece of metal rebar skewered him, his first day on the job.
Unlike the intensive schooling that workers under the auspices of the New York State Iron Workers District Council receive, the married father of three from Brooklyn didn’t have any training at all when he first started working for his employer nine years ago.
“The bosses don’t care,” Lopez told LaborPress on Tuesday immediately after presenting his foreman with a letter stating he was striking. “They just want the job done. We stay loyal to these guys, but they’re not loyal to us.”
Turner, who has five children of his own, as well as four grandchildren, says that workers like him and Lopez in the employ of construction companies owned and operated by the Auringer family – US Crane & Rigging, NY Hoist, NY Plank and Urban Pre-Cast among them – are treated like “tools to be used and tossed aside.”
“I’ve been asking for a raise for the past seven years, which I can’t get,” Turner said. “I’m not ashamed to say that I live paycheck-to-paycheck because it’s impossible to save money."
The Auringer family's large network of construction companies operates throughout the metropolitan area and has a spotty record of numerous safety violations, charges of cheating workers and more.
In both 2008, and 2009, workers filed complaints and lawsuits alleging that Auringer-owned construction companies withheld wages and failed to pay employees overtime. NY Hoist, US Crane &Rigging and other affiliated companies are presently the subjects of a class action lawsuit involving more than two dozen workers.
In the last 10 years, OSHA has also cited Auringer companies with over $300,000 in initial fines. During the same period, companies in the Auringer network were also involved in a disturbing series of crane failures, system breakdowns and a partial building collapse in Brooklyn. An SSB Hoist employee lost his life in 2008 when an elevator crushed and killed him.
On Thursday, labor leaders, community activists and clergy stood with Turner and Lopez outside 33 Beekman Street in Manhattan to denounce Pace University’s involvement with the Auringer network of construction companies – and to call for an end to wage theft and other worker abuses.
“This is a perfect example of what organized labor stands for,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. “You have two workers that have the courage to come forward and join with the Iron Workers and be a part of a voice – a voice to tell the press, the community, religious groups and the industry, about the exploitation that takes place on these non-union jobs – and with this employer.”
Matt D’Amico, regional coordinator for CSEA Local 1000, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, urged elected officials to pass a law mandating that every construction job in the city is union built.
“We are sick and tired of seeing workers abused and exploited by big contractors who only care about the almighty dollar,” D’Amico said. “And we’re tired of politicians not standing up and doing the right thing. Every construction job in this city should be union.”
NYC Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez called on the still untapped power of over a million unionized workers joining together as an unstoppable political force for change.
“It’s a crying shame that in 2014, we have to stand here and continue to fight for basic levels of decency, respect and safety on the job,” Alvarez said. “We’re not going to put profits over people. In this town, we have over a million unionized workers – think of the power that we have when we come together.”
The Iron Workers’ Angel Dominguez appealed directly to owners and developers. “The only way to do business is with a good contractor. And a good contractor means a union job,” Dominguez said.
Lopez and Turner, meanwhile, both remain resolute.
“We employees have a voice, and I want my voice to be heard,” Lopez said. “I want everybody to know that there is a better option out there for us. All we have to do is stand up.”