October 14, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – New York City Councilman Andy King is promising to investigate a major subcontractor building affordable housing for the city after Bronx iron worker LaFondra Brown walked off the job last week citing sexual harassment and overall worker abuse.
The Auringer family of companies, which includes U.S. Crane & Rigging and Urban Erectors among others, is currently working on seven large housing developments in the Bronx alone – including the massive West Farms affordable housing development at Boone Avenue and East 172nd Street.
But labor advocates charge that companies that have a long and disgraceful history of worker abuse like Auringer, shouldn’t be profiting from the de Blasio administration’s drive to invest in 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.
“This cannot continue,” Councilman King [D-12th District] told a gathering of Brown supporters rallying in front of the Auringer-related job site at East 214th Street and White Plains Road on October 10. “We are calling on the Auringer companies and its management to shape up or ship out.”
Two days prior, Brown walked off the non-union construction site, fed up with the ongoing sexual harassment and worker abuse the veteran 34-year-old veteran iron worker and mother of two said she endured working for Urban Erectors.
“This cannot be tolerated,” Brown said on Friday. “I am sick of it – and I am quite sure that there are other women out there enduring the same conditions. And I know they’re sick of it, too. It has to stop.”
Cherille Yon, a union iron worker with Local 580 for the past 13 years, was incensed after learning about Brown’s awful experiences on non-union job sites around the city.
“I’ve always worked union and have never been sexually harassed on the job,” said Yon, 48. “This pisses me off. Women in this trade have come too far to get pushed back like this.”
Just to a few hours prior to the East 214th Street rally for Brown, another worker for U.S. Crane & Rigging walked off his job site at 1520 Decatur Street in Brooklyn, citing ongoing worker abuses and dangerous work practices.
“Workers have no value here,” said Anthony Charbonier, 43. “They’re treated less than human. I’m just tired of the overall disrespect. They treat you like your’e a dog. They’re also sending out stuff that’s not really safe and secure – and I don’t want to be a part of that if an accident happens.”
Auringer-related companies have been subjected to numerous Department of Building violations dating back years, and are currently involved in a class action loss in which former workers allege pervasive wage theft and other abuses.
“There’s no way we should be putting up with this,” said Edward Walsh, president, NYS District Council of Iron Workers. “This is a disgrace. It’s not just a union issue, it’s a workers rights issue.”
Critics of Auringer charge that its companies routinely land lucrative deals with developers because they are able to cut corners at workers’ expense.
“It’s 2014, and we have people guilty of wage theft, sexual harassment on the job, and flat out exploitation of workers on the job,” said John Skinner, political and legislative director, Metal Lathers and Reinforcing Iron Workers Local 46. “Are we still in America – because to me that’s un-American.”
Over the past 15 years, Skinner said that labor unions have continually given back concessions to the richest developers in New York City – with the current anti-worker climate as the result.
“We need to do something that hits people really hard,” Councilman King said. “It’s time to start locking people up.”