New York, NY – Union cement and concrete workers denied work at a massive mixed use development at 85 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn are pressing the fight for good middle class jobs into the New Year.
Labor leaders concede that the 1.1 million square foot development’s foundation has already “gone bad,” but insist that opportunities for good union jobs paying middle class wages and benefits still exist building the project’s superstructure.
Occupying a full block bound by Jay, Bridge, York and Front streets, the as-of-right development features two 21-story towers that are set to reach 210 feet upon completion.
In addition, to exploiting nonunion labor with paltry wages and nonexistent benefits, Trade unionists charge that the project is also being built unsafe.
Some 26 complaints have been lodged at the Department of Buildings, but none of them have stuck. Council Member Stephen Levin [D-District 33], however, says that the giant development, indeed, remains a “major concern.”
“We’ve received complaints from neighbors fairly frequently,” the council member told LaborPress. “This is not a site that we haven’t been hearing neighbor complaints for the last six months or so. My staff has been actively engaged in this trying to resolve the issues as they come up.”
CIM, the development group at the helm of the 85 Jay Street project, has a long track record of hiring contractors and subcontractors charged with of some of the most heinous worker violations on record. Trade unionists point out that those violations run the gamut from wage theft and discrimination to sexual harassment and fatalities.
“We think that the safety record of the contractors they’ve used so far, should be troubling and concerning for local residents,” Local 46 Political Director Melissa Shetler told LaborPress. “This is not the type of development or the type of contractor that we should be allowing in New York City. The exploitation of vulnerable workers is something that we’re supposed to be standing up against.”
Metallic Lathers and Reinforcing Ironworkers Local 46 has launched a campaign to convince other firms to stop investing in CIM, in an effort to convince the $29 billion private equity real estate fund manager to stop hiring irresponsible contractors.
“I’ve never seen a job that big — expect for the [World] Trade Center,” Cement and Concrete Workers Local 20’s Mike Arena told LaborPress. “I think this job is a little too big for them. They’re scrambling around. They think they’re working hard, but they’re doing the same job three or four times. It’s an accident waiting to happen.”
I think this job is a little too big for them. They’re scrambling around. They think they’re working hard, but they’re doing the same job three or four times. It’s an accident waiting to happen. — Mike Arena, Cement & Concrete Workers Local 20.
None of the recorded complaints about the 85 Jay Street project have resulted in DOB fines. A partial stop work order issued on October 25, following a complaint highlighting hazards to pedestrians, was rescinded a day later.
“We take all complaints regarding the safety of construction sites seriously and make it clear to developers that the safest conditions come from a respectful dynamic with their workforce,” a City Hall spokesperson told LaborPress. “We hold bad actors accountable when they fail to do so. We will look into these allegations.”
For trade unionists losing more and more construction jobs to nonunion labor and so-called “open shop” development — the completion of 85 Jay Street has ramifications that far exceed the confines of Downtown Brooklyn.
“If this job goes bad, if Hudson Yards [on Manhattan’s West Side] goes bad — it’s over,” retired Local 20 member Artie Geller told LaborPress.
Nonunion workers on the 85 Jay Street development are reportedly laboring under a “two-tiered” pay scale, in some cases, earning little better than minimum wage.
“That’s the way they work these jobs out,” Geller said. “They don’t pay into Social Security, they don’t pay into Unemployment — there’s no retirement. These kids get sick or their kids get sick, they go to the hospital, and the taxpayer pays for it.”
Arena says that when he raised concerns about unsafe work conditions at the 85 Jay Street site, the contractor dispatched someone to sit outside his house as an attempt at intimidation. Despite that, the Local 20 organizer remains focused on securing good union jobs at the site.
“If they come to me and say, ‘Listen Mike, we’re gonna let the foundation go nonunion, but everything with the upper structure is going to be union,’ we might get concessions for them,” Arena said.
Council Member Levin said that it is incumbent upon developers, including CIM, to be “proactive” about worker rights and protections.
“It is a project that got a great benefit in terms of up-zoning from the city,” the Brooklyn lawmaker said. “We think that, particularly when it comes to worker safety and paying their workers and treating their workers properly, developers ought to do the right thing. I’ve seen too many times in my district, workers on unsafe sites being injured or killed. We need to do everything that we can to make sure that never happens again.”