A legal battle has erupted between politicians-backed unions and a developer over the hiring of local nonunion workers at the massive City Point project in downtown Brooklyn, reports Our Time Press.
Construction workers unions, community groups and elected officials filed the lawsuit on May 2 against the City, the Acadia Realty Trust and other real estate firms demanding that work be stopped at the mixed use retail and residential project until a new study is completed on the impact to the local economy of what they call poverty-level wages being paid to nonunion workers.
But many black-owned local contractors accuse the unions of using the lawsuit as a pretext to bringing in workers from the outside, ignoring the high unemployment rate in the surrounding community.
“I support unions, but I also support local and minority employment,” said Ed Brown, the former Ingersoll Houses Tenants Association President and whose Team Brown Consulting firm has landed several people from the Ingersoll Houses construction and security jobs on the City Point project.
“The trade unions are not opening their ranks for local people. I don’t see that happening. The history of local construction unions has to be put to the forefront in reference to giving jobs in the local community and people of color being left out.”
According to Brown, nonunion security workers receive above-union wages while nonunion laborers and construction workers still received “hefty hourly rates.”
“We have unemployed individuals, some of them formerly incarcerated, with rent to pay, families to feed and child support issues. If someone is working labor for $20 or $25 an hour, it sure beats a blank. I don’t see how that can be contested,” he said.
Assemblyman Walter Mosley, who along with Councilwoman Letitia James, is one of the petitioners in the lawsuit, said he is working with the ironworkers union on the issue of job creation for minorities in their ranks. He doubted nonunion workers from the community were working on the project.
“I have asked the developer for a breakdown of workers on the project that supposedly ‘live’ in the community,” he said in an email. “To date, I have never met or heard of a single person from the 57th Assembly District who works on the site.”
Martin (Ab) Allen of Bed-Stuy-based PPEE Construction, denies the claim, saying 38 people from his company, working on the project, are from the Farragut, Wyckoff or Gowanus Houses or in general from Brownsville, Fort Greene, Bed-Stuy and Bushwick.
“If this project was a full union shop none of these people would be working there,” said Allen, who stated he himself is a union member.
Allen said many from the local community could not get into the unions because of up-front union dues.
“If they (City Point) go full union then none of the local people will get jobs. When you become a union shop they force contractors to have six union workers before you can bring on some of yours from the community,” he said.
Allen said he knows of several small and local contractors who have been able to get some subcontracting work on City Point including plumbing, sprinkler, concrete and scaffolding contracts.
“A small company can’t compete with these big union companies like in cement. They (unions) want politicians to support them, but people are starving out here,” he said.
The first part of the three-phase project, located at DeKalb and Flatbush Aves, has been completed. The under-construction second phase includes 680,000 square feet of retail space and 680 units of housing including 125 units of affordable housing.