New York, NY – In the ongoing battle against so-called “open shop development” at Hudson Yards and the assault on good middle class jobs — wages and benefits figure greatly. But so, too, do things like dignity, safety and respect.
Before joining Laborer’s Local 79, Tierra Williams worked nonunion for an outfit called Trade Off at One Hudson Yards. While on that job, the 29-year-old Flatbush resident says she experienced repeated episodes of sexual harassment from a leering foreman who liked to follow her to the bathroom. It got so bad, Williams didn’t feel comfortable taking a bathroom break unless a friend accompanied her.
“Not only was I exploited as a worker, but as a woman,” Williams told LaborPress this week. “I experienced a lot of sexism as far as my voice not being heard and my opinions falling on deaf ears.”
When Williams persisted in speaking out, she says a general foreman for Trade Off fired her.
“He said it didn’t come from him, but somebody higher up,” Williams said. “I don’t know who that person is.”
Ultimately, Williams insists developer Stephen Ross has failed to take responsibility for the harassment she, as well as a number of other female workers — experienced on that Trade Off job site.
“Many affidavits have gone in and he’s thrown them in the garbage,” Williams alleges. “He has not responded — not even given a word of comfort. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know him personally, he wasn’t there — but I think his voice would matter more than anyone else’s.”
Today, Williams is working union on a job site at 125 Greenwich Street where she is earning better wages and benefits in a “very different” atmosphere that feels “more stable, more concrete.”
“I get the utmost respect on my job now,” Williams said. “That’s because these guys have so much to live for. Other people that I was working with nonunion — they don’t have anything to look forward to — no 401k plans, nothing.”
The were also woefully untrained, according to Williams.
“Most of them are coming right off the streets — they’ve never been to a class, they’ve never been to school,” Williams said. “They’ve been paying for their OSHA cards. They’ve got OSHA cards coming from all over the place. With 79, you’ve got to get your OSHA card through them, you have to go to their schools, they have to know who you are.”
As a union construction worker, Williams said she has further developed the kind of important interpersonal skills that will serve her well far into her building career.
“You get to meet people, learn how to conduct yourself — they actually give you a life lesson as you’re on the job,” Williams said.