October 16, 2016
By Silver Krieger
New York, NY — The latest in a series of protests over the last several months against Gilbane Construction of Providence, RI took place in Zuccotti Park, famously the site of the Occupy Wall Street protests. The Oct. 6 demonstration featured support from building trades unions that are incensed at Gildane’s notorious record of hiring non-union subcontractors with bad safety records.
The 1 Wall Street residential conversion is a case in point. While portraying itself as an industry leader with high ethical standards, Gilbane Building undercuts wages in the construction industry and hires workers without the safety apprenticeship training which has given New York’s unionized companies an enviable safety record.
One construction trades unionist, who did not want to be quoted directly, said “this company is about exploitation, worker abuse, and criminality. Their workers don’t get lunch breaks or union representation. There’s nothing worse than the unbridled greed of wealthy owners who don’t want to give their workers fair wages.”
Company President William Gilbane told the Real Deal construction newsletter: “We’re not doing union busting. We are very focused on putting the most qualified, responsible companies and people on our projects.”
But NY Building Trades Council President Gary LaBarbara had this response: “They pride themselves at having an over-100-year history with the highest ethical standards,” Gary LaBarbera, head of the Building and Construction Trades Council, told the newspaper. “Then they go out and do the exact opposite.”
The push by Gilbane to outsource an increasing amount of work to non-union subcontractors faces determined resistance from the building trades, which have seen dramatic reductions in market share over the past 40 years. Yet New York City real estate values keep climbing, and are now thought to equal a trillion dollars – all created, ultimately, by labor.
The City’s estimated 100,000 union construction workers receive decent middle-income wages which are in the $30 per hour range for laborers, and $50 to $60 per hour for skilled trades, with benefit packages costing between $25 and $45 per hour.
The equally large non-union workforce, by contrast, is scandalously underpaid. Most are misclassified as “independent contractors,” which means no social security contributions, no unemployment insurance, and no pensions. Often, they make as little as $10 per hour.
Non-union tradespeople may make $30 per hour on the books – the bottom tier of a union wage – but they get no benefits and do not have access to apprenticeship programs and safety training that ensure they go home to their families. Victimized by employers like Gilbane, they are often reluctant to raise safety issues for fear of retaliation. If they are undocumented, their jeopardy is even greater. Their low pay and lack of benefits is a cruel theft from these workers and their families – and simply pads the profits already hugely wealthy real estate companies and the unscrupulous firms they hire.