July 2, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
Queens, NY – For the past three weeks, a small group of four formerly non-union workers on a suspect job site in Long Island City have been experiencing life as members of Steamfitters 638 — and the difference, they say, has been like “earth and sky.”
“It’s a huge difference, 29-year-old Croatian emigre Marjan Pejkovic told LaborPress this week. “We’re more productive and work harder because conditions are better. Safety issues are taken care of on the spot at that moment.”
During the two months he worked non-union at the $875 million, publicly subsidized luxury residential complex on Jackson Avenue, Pejkovic says he and his co-workers endured both substandard wages and benefits and unsafe working conditions.
The day-to-day realities of toiling at the 1,789-unit Tishman Speyer development on Jackson Avenue convinced Pejkovic and co-workers Ivica Juric-Marijanovic, Alex Xande and Yuriy Olefirenko to abandon the job and join Steamfitters Local 638.
Three days later they were working on a School Construction Authority project where safety is a top priority and union wages and benefits are assured.
“These men are now held to a higher standard of workmanship and quality of the systems that they install,” said Robert Bartels, Jr, business agent-at-large, Steamfitters Local 638. “They now also have a voice in the union, whether it is to ask a question, give support or address any issue they have a concern with where the union does business.”
Steamfitters Local 638 President Patric Dolan criticized the millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies that have gone to the Tishman Speyer development under the now expired 421-a tax abatement program.
“Tishman Speyer has been given many millions of dollars in tax subsidies from 421-a,” Dolan said. “It’s a perfect example of why the individuals working on these job sites should be paid the area standards and why there should be a prevailing wage on projects receiving 421-a or other taxpayer subsidies. Why should the taxpayers give a subsidy to a developer who then exploits workers by not paying a decent wage?”
The Queens Plaza development has been twice cited for “failure to safeguard all persons and property” and “failure to provide guard rails.” Inadequate fire suppression equipment also forced a partial work stoppage above the 8th floor.
Turner Construction is running the $875 million project rising on Jackson Avenue. Iconic Mechanical is the subcontractor.
“I think a lot of other people there would follow if they had the opportunity,” Pejkovic added.
Now part of Steamfitters Local 638, Pejkovic expects to undergo more training in welding techniques and blueprint reading.
“These guys will now transition to a union worksite and won’t miss a beat,” said Daniel Mulligan, business agent, Steamfitters local 638. “The new job provides them with an opportunity to perform high-quality work with other steamfitters who have decades of experience in New York City and who can help further train them to be an asset to the industry for years to come.”