New York, NY – On Wednesday, August 26, Take It Back, a coalition consisting of multiple construction trade unions (New York State Laborers Local 731, Local 1010 and Local 79, Cement & Concrete Workers District Council 16, Bricklayers- Local 1, Tile, Marble and Terrazzo- Local 7, and Local 12- Insulators) held a rally at 250 Vesey Street in Lower Manhattan, the headquarters of Brookfield Properties, to protest and call attention to the ongoing issue of wage theft and the use of bad actors by the property developer.
Take It Back is fighting against worker exploitation, wage fraud, safety violations, and raising the bar in an effort to ensure safety, respect, and dignity for all construction workers.
More than 20 workers, all members of New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) an organization that builds the individual and collective power of immigrant workers in New York City, were employed by Top Shelf Electric between August and December 2018. They worked at 2 different sites: Hallets Point in Queens, one on the Upper East Side. They were not paid for several weeks of their work; collectively they are owed tens of thousands of dollars.
Top Shelf Electric, RNC, and SLG were among companies cited as “bad actors.”
Building Material Teamsters Local 282 Business Agent John Santaniello said, “We see more and more owners trying to use subcontractors and suppliers who undermine the labor standards that the Teamsters and other trade unions have fought for over decades, labor standards that allow working class people to earn a decent middle-class life in New York and to retire with dignity.”
Over one hundred union members were estimated to have attended the rally, along with New York City Councilmember Ben Kallos, and members of New York State Laborers’ Organizing Fund (NYSLOF). Kallos remarked on the enthusiastic volume of the crowd, and said, “Every time I hear about a contractor like Top Shelf, that is stealing wages from workers, I will be here with you to say, ‘Take It Back. Pay what is owed. Pay those workers.”
Joe Scopo, head organizer of District Council 16 of the Cement and Concrete Workers union, said, “We lowered our wages for Brookfield Properties and we already negotiated with them, but at 45 Commercial Street [where Top Shelf Electric was used] they used RNC and other bad actors.” Mike Arena, organizer and foreman with DC-16 Cement and Concrete Workers, with twenty-three plus years of experience, said of the work at 45 Commercial Street, “I’ve never seen work go up so slow and so unsafe in all my years.”
Scopo added, “We want Brookfield Properties to sit down with us again. Unions want a level playing field when it comes to the bidding process on jobs. We don’t see a reduction in real estate costs, we are just seeing a reduction in labor costs and safety costs. They have another project coming up in the Bronx. We have skilled workers trained in multi-million-dollar training facilities. Is it they don’t want accountability in certain areas that they don’t go union? Brookfield Properties is not directly responsible for wage theft and worker exploitation but they are hiring those companies that are. Brookfield Properties knows what’s right and wrong. Why not go with the unions? The unions do good work all the time.”