NEW YORK, N.Y.—Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams joined a few hundred construction workers under the Major Deegan Expressway August 23 for “a rally for good jobs and to prevent violence” organized by Laborers Local 79.
“If you want to take the cold steel of a gun out of someone’s hand, then put the steel of a hammer in their hand, and let them be on the job site,” Adams said. “Good middle-class jobs, that’s the best crime-fighting tool you can ever get.”
The green-painted wood fence behind them, on Exterior Street just north of 149th Street and the bridge to 145th Street in Manhattan, marked the site of the future Universal Hip-Hop Museum and the Bronx Point development. The museum is scheduled to open in 2024, and the development will include 542 units of affordable housing. All of it, Adams told the crowd, will be built union, with at least 50% of the workers hired from nearby neighborhoods, 20% of formerly incarcerated, and 10% women.
“Today, we’re here to celebrate a job,” Local 79 organizing director Chaz Rynkiewicz said.
Formerly incarcerated workers expressed the same sentiments as Adams.
“We gotta stop shootin’ and start bootin’,” declared John Simmons, after describing how he’d been told while he was in prison that his son had been shot to death. “When we put on our boots to go to work, we put down the guns. Good jobs change thought processes.”
He said that when he worked for a “body shop” — an employment agency that specializes in hiring recently released prisoners for nonunion construction jobs at minimum wage or close to it — “every day, I thought about going back to jail.”
Gerald Lisbon said he’d made $15 an hour working for a body shop, helping unload deliveries — “tubs, pipes, toilets” — but now has a union job on an affordable-housing development being built by L+M Development Partners in East Harlem, a five-minute walk from his home.
“Local 79 transformed my life,” said Justice Favor. Now, he said, “it’s time to lift up body-shop workers,” and “Local 79 can be a beacon.”
L+M Development, one of the city’s main builders of affordable housing, has historically used nonunion labor, but is working with Local 79 on the Bronx Point development, which broke ground in May. The 542 apartments in its first phase are slated for households and individuals earning between 30% to 120% of the Metropolitan Area median income, as well as for formerly homeless people.
For a family of three, that would range from an annual income of $32,220, or about $805 a month rent, to $128,880, about $3,222 rent. For a single person, the range is $25,080, about $627 rent, to $100,320, about $2,508 rent.
“This is the way of the future. This is how we’re going to build affordable housing,” L+M Development CEO Ron Moelis told the rally. “We want people working on these jobs to be able to afford to live in these jobs.”
L+M reached a deal with Local 79 last November to use union labor on four
jobs: building Bronx Point and the Sendero Verde affordable-housing development in East Harlem, and renovating two public-housing developments, the Linden Houses in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood and Harlem River Houses I & II in Harlem.
Those jobs all have the same minimums for hiring local residents, formerly incarcerated people, and women, Rynkiewicz told LaborPress after the rally. “It’s going great,” he said. “We’re far exceeding them.” On one job, he added, 90% of the workers are from the neighborhood.
Previous mayors have all used nonunion developers to build their affordable housing, much of which cost more than what residents of the neighborhoods they were located in could afford. That policy escalated under Michael Bloomberg, and Bill de Blasio continued it, says Rynkiewicz, but he’s optimistic about Eric Adams.
“I think he’s big on local hiring,” Rynkiewicz said.
Adams, a member of the Police Benevolent Association, told the rally he’d probably be the first union member ever elected mayor of New York City.
“I was beaten by police, and then I became police,” he said.