Tensions rise between New York City's unions and developers
- The relationship between New York City's developers and trade unions is becoming increasingly hostile as nonunion workers chip away at organized labor's hold on the construction industry there, pro-union forces step up jobsite protests and lawsuits fly, The New York Times reported.
- Some developers and builders claim that some trade unions have not lived up to the conditions in the project labor agreements that were supposed to offer a compromise on work practices and lower worker pay rates. Organized labor leaders like Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, claim that these allegations are a subterfuge and that the developers that are complaining are trying to get around paying union-scale wages. The developer of the $25 billion Hudson Yards has filed a lawsuit against the Trades Council, claiming some unions bilked it out of $100 million during the first phase of the project. The Trades Council has filed a complaint against Related with the National Labor Relations Board alleging unlawful union-busting activities at Hudson Yards.
- A carpenters' union survey found that unions currently make up 65% of the labor force on construction projects in Manhattan and not even 40% on jobs located in the outer boroughs of the Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens. Some nonunion workers in New York City are paid as low as $15 per hour while union construction workers can earn $93 per hour in wages and benefits.
The fight between unions and construction industry players in New York to determine the future role of organized labor is sure to become a roadmap of sorts for developers and construction companies in other cities struggling with the same dynamics. And as less expensive, nonunion labor gains a foothold, it will be more difficult to convince builders they should pay more, even though unions provide workers who have been through apprenticeships and extensive safety training.
But Related isn't the only one to call foul on some union practices, at least in New York City. A January Times investigation found that one of the reasons New York City has the world's highest subway construction costs is that trade union agreements with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have seen the agency pay for four times the workers it actually needs in some instances. Wage rates have also been an issue. The Times reported that on the East Side Access tunnel project, one union negotiated a base wage and benefits rate of $111 with the potential for that to rise to $400 per hour for overtime and weekend work. Costs for the East Side Access project are expected to average $3.5 billion per mile, seven times the average of such projects around the world.
- The New York Times With Pickets and Lawsuits, Unions and Developers Go to War
Follow Kim Slowey on Twitter