Friday, December 18, 2009

Labor vs. Labor

It's hard to overstate just how angry members of the labor community - particularly the building trades - are over the death of the Kingsbridge Armory project and the loss 1,000 construction jobs it would have created.

That anger erupted at a Central Labor Council monthly meeting yesterday, sources said, when PSC's Barbara Bowen stood to congratulate RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum, who led the Kingsbridge opposition.
"As soon as she opened her mouth, the building trades and the teamsters went crazy," a labor source said. "They're absolutely furious. They had to stop the whole meeting."
Things got so heated that a special meeting is being called next month just to address this issue - and provide both sides with some time to cool off.

The trouble is, as my source put it: "People aren't going to move on."

Kingsbridge was the talk of the AFL-CIO's annual labor dinner at the Sheraton last night. I ran into Steve McInnis, the political director for the carpenter's union, who darkly told me: "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction."

He recalled the 2007 fight between the UFT and the carpenters over the teacher's union plan to use non-union labor on a Bronx housing project for educators.

The building trades threatened to demonstrate outside then-UFT President Randi Weingarten's birthday celebration, but ended up calling off their plans at the last minute after she caved and agreed to use union construction workers.

McInnis didn't offer any details on what sort of retaliatory tactics the building trades are planning, but it doesn't sound pretty.

Appelbaum is the chief target of most of this ire. There has been talk of the building trades pulling their historic support for preventing Wal-Mart from coming into the city - a key bread-and-butter issue for the RWDSU.

Adding fuel to the Kingsbridge fire is the fact that many in the labor community consider this fight a continuation of the mayor's race, in which the bulk of the trades backed Mayor Bloomberg while Appelbaum was an outspoken supporter of Comptroller Bill Thompson.
"He didn't win the mayor's race, so Kingsbridge is Miss Congeniality. But he won it at a huge price - he cost union jobs," my source complained. "We have always, as a group, been able to work out the best deal for everyone we could. This is the first time a single union threw everyone under the bus."
Appelbaum and his supporters have argued that Kingsbridge is a real victory because it changed the political landscape in the city and established a benchmark for so-called living wages in publicly-funded projects. They have pledged to make the fight citywide, and perhaps even statewide with IDA reform legislation as the vehicle.

Opponents insist the Council's Kingsbridge votes, which Mayor Bloomberg vetoed - as promised - yesterday, were actually a political anomaly born both out the still-fresh results of the mayor's race and the yet-to-be held speaker's vote, which curtailed Christine Quinn's power to corral the renegade Bronx delegation.

The Council now has 10 days to vote to override Bloomberg's vetoes. The mayor himself has said isn't holding out much hope there and expects the Kingsbridge project to remain dead. He has consoled himself by pointing out the passage of the West Side Rail Yards rezoning, which he noted is a much bigger project than Kingsbridge.

Next up: The Broadway Triangle battle, which will perhaps shed some light on whether Kingsbridge will have a lasting effect or really was just a blip on the City Hall radar screen.

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