February 11, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The chair of the City Council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee is calling for a sit-down between developers, stakeholders and the administration, so that the city can quit missing out on “opportunities” to provide construction workers with a “ticket to the middle class.”
Last week, in his State of the City address, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that the best way to address income inequality is to raise incomes. But many fear that the bulk of the construction jobs coming out of hizzonner’s 10-year, 200,000 affordable housing plan, are largely low-paying, dead-end gigs without benefits or clear pathways to real careers.
A day after the mayor delivered his message, construction workers marched through the streets of East New York, denouncing junk jobs, and the very real possibility of being priced out of their own neighborhood.
“We have to make an investment into what we know is a guarantee into the middle class,” Councilman I. Daneek Miller [D-27th district] told LaborPress this week. “We have seen a lot of programs that have not created real jobs.”
Non-union job sites throughout the city have dismal track records respecting workers rights. They include everything from wage theft to sexual harassment on the job.
Councilman Miller, former head of Amalgamated Transportation Union [ATU] Local No. 1056, said that “bad actors” should no longer continue to benefit from the “misfortune of workers.”
Up until now, however, the administration – most notably Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen – has appeared much more concerned about building costs, rather than the opportunity to address income inequality by supporting construction jobs that pay good wages, provide benefits and lead to sustainable careers.
Labor leaders and worker advocates were roundly supportive of Mayor de Blasio’s recent State of the City address, and his emphasis on creating more affordable housing – but they also expressed concerns about the kinds of jobs being created.
“The city should only use a development model that creates housing affordable to local residents and hires locally for good union jobs,” said Jonathan Westin, executive director, New York Communities for Change.
Gary LaBarbera, president, Building and Construction Trades Council, said that he looks forward to working with the administration to “create good quality jobs leading to sustainable careers,” and confronting income inequality “in a real way.”
New York City Central Labor Council head Vincent Alvarez, meanwhile, said “Income disparities can only be reduced if residents have the financial ability through higher wages and salaries to care for their families, pay rent or mortgages, and invest in their local communities.”
Public Advocate Letitia James has been the most outspoken public official calling on the administration to “build it union.”
According to Councilman Miller, the question of what kinds of jobs Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan ultimatley creates going forward, will soon be answered.
“We will know very shortly, if we get everybody to the table and open up all of the books and figure it out,” Councilman Miller said. “I am optimistic that it will happen. The benefits are tenfold.”