New York, NY – The Durst Organization’s towering Queens Plaza Park project in Long Island City is slated to become one of the tallest structures the modest borough has ever seen — but the fight over who builds the emerging skyscraper has ramifications that extend far beyond its looming 978,000 square-foot shadow.
In the fight against so-called “open shop” development — the cleverly crafted euphemism that obscures the Real Estate Board of New York’s march from skilled union labor to junk jobs that offer exploited non-union workers meager pay and zero benefits — Durst has been widely regarded as one of the good guys.
The Queens Plaza Park project and Durst’s decision to hire RNC Industries, a notorious non-union concrete contractor with an outrageous history of worker abuses and scandal, changes all of that, however. And union leaders warn that it is middle-class families throughout the city who will pay the price.
“Durst has to understand that we’re never going away,” Terry Moore, Metallic Lathers & Reinforcing Ironworkers Local 46 business manager, told union workers rallying outside the 41st Avenue site last week. “We’re going to be fighting for the men and women that are in our unions — and more importantly, for the little ones that are home waiting for us, depending on us.”
According to Moore, the hit middle-class working men and women are taking on Durst’s Queens Plaza Park is profound.
“This is an over $80 million concrete contract — $40 million of that is one of two things to a either a union contractor or non-union contractor: $30 million of it would go to wages and fringe benefits for the family members of union contractors,” Moore said. “Somewhere in the neighborhood of between $5- and $10 million would go to overhead, profit and the rest. Well, guess what? On a non-union job, about $7 million goes to the worker — and the rest goes into the pocket of RNC.”
Local 46 Business Agent John Coffey called out REBNY, and warned Durst’s decision to hire RNC for the Queens Plaza Park project is a clear “wake up call” that trades men and women can’t afford to ignore.
“Most of the time it’s about money,” Coffey said. “But this wasn’t about economics because we were in the ballpark — we were right there. Durst is sending a message to you and to me that it’s not about the economics all the time: It’s about — we want to hire the people that we want to hire; we want to hire unscrupulous contractors; we don’t care about the guy that went through an apprenticeship program; we don’t care about the girl that got training; we want to control everything in this city.”
The 67-story, 710-foot tall Queens Plaza Park development is going up inside Jimmy Van Bramer’s 26th Councilmanic District.
“I think the City Council is extremely supportive of Organized Labor and the [Building] Trades, and I think we’ve demonstrated that time and time again,” the Queens council member told LaborPress. “But I do think that you’ve got a very strong, rich and powerful industry that’s pushing back. So, we’re doing what we can, looking for ways to do more.”
I think the City Council is extremely supportive of Organized Labor and the [Building] Trades, and I think we’ve demonstrated that time and time again, the Queens council member told LaborPress. But I do think that you’ve got a very strong, rich and powerful industry that’s pushing back.
Fellow Queens Council Member Costa Costantinides [D-22nd District] declared, “The time for unsafe contractors; the time developers who make money not thinking about the people who have to do the work, is over.”
“Leave a legacy and not a mess,” Costantinides said. “The time is now to make sure we are counted. We stand with union brothers and sisters to say, enough is enough.”
When asked for a remedy to the construction and real estate industry’s race to the bottom, Coffee told LaborPress “It’s a sit-down; it’s a real dialogue about what’s going on.”
“At the end of the day, I think we need to let the public know that, hey…you’re going into buildings that might not be built with trained workers, but yet you’re paying the same price as the job across the street that was built with trained union workers,” Coffey said. “It’s not fair to anybody. The only ones that are winning here are the developers. The workers at $25-an-hour truly don’t win — even though it’s a short-term win for them — they don’t win in the longterm. The unions lose out, and the public loses out. Open, serious, and truthful dialogues with full transparency — the [Building] Trades are willing to do that — I don’t know if REBNY is.”
Moore wondered about the simple legacy that working men and women in this country are now being forced to forego.
“Your legacy…what is it?” Moore said. “Is it a big deal? It’s your family [growing] up with at least what you had. Mr. [Douglas] Durst, Mr. [Bruce] Beal — all of the people out there that are trying to sink us — they think you should work for $20,000 and $30,000 a year. Are we going to work for $30,000 a year? Are we going to work without healthcare? Are we going to work without a good pension?”
NYC’s construction industry is booming, according to the The NY Building Congress — the nearly century-old organization committed to “promoting the growth and success of the construction industry.” Just last year, group President Carlo Scissura described the construction industry as “on fire.”
The Durst Organization has not responded to requests for comment.