Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hardhat unions in trouble as major developers want them to take cuts

Unionized construction workers are looking at more pay cuts if they want work.
By Adam Lisberg 
Happy holidays, hardhats. Life may look a lot different this time next year.

A convulsion is looming in New York's ailing construction industry.

Major developers say they won't start building again without significant cuts in their labor costs, with work-rule, benefit and wage savings of 20% or more.

Nonunion contractors are improving their skills and making inroads in the tall Manhattan buildings that have been union-built since the beginning of time.

Meanwhile, union hardhats looking at 20% unemployment or more in their trades have grudgingly accepted work-rule changes and wage freezes on a project-by-project basis - but they're balking at signing onto permanent changes.

Talks have moved along fitfully and recently broke off until after the holidays, but the real battle will come by summer.

Thirty construction unions have contracts that expire by June 30, 2011. When they do, the reverberations could shake New York to its core.

Contractors could reach new deals. Or unions could walk off the job and paralyze construction sites. Or developers could bring nonunion workers onto high-profile midtown jobs and brace themselves for the consequences.

Construction insiders, speaking privately, make grim jokes about violence on job sites and security guards for real estate executives.

Much of what developers want involves work-rule changes, like staggering start times and lunch hours, standardizing holidays and starting the time clock when workers reach the construction floor instead of the front gate.

"Right now, both sides are basically posturing and getting ready for those negotiations," said Louis Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers' Association, which represents union contractors.
Louis Coletti

"We hope they'll begin early, but I think it's going to be a real seminal point in the history of the industry. What we need is permanent change."

New York has always been a strong union town, where the major real estate families paid high wages in exchange for a safe, skilled and super-efficient workforce.

The building boom of the past decade brought in a flock of new developers from outside New York who didn't care about that history. If they built tall, they did it outside Manhattan.

Now, however, a rat-and-pickets display is up permanently at 10th Ave. and 23rd St., where a 13-story, nonunion tower is going up, and a 16-story, nonunion project is also rising on Orchard St. on the lower East Side.

"Owners are now looking at these options. Primarily, it goes to cost," said Gary LaBarbera, head of the Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents 100,000 workers. "Market conditions clearly impact what goes on at the bargaining table."

The biggest challenge for the unions may come from inside, though, where workers already scared for their paychecks aren't happy about permanent givebacks.

Some labor leaders have even hired a motivational speaker, Mark Breslin, to convince hardhats that the construction world is changing and they need to change, too.

"There has to be trust between union members and their leadership about the wisdom of doing these things," said the business manager of one construction union. "Members are normally skeptical because they're out there breaking their backs every day."


  1. This article is a bag of speculation and credits a bull shit argument that does not deserve crediting. WE ARE NOT THE REASON THERE IS NO WORK. THERE IS NO WORK BECAUSE BANKS ARE NOT LENDING!!!!! Wage concessions would not result in more union carpenters being hired it would result in carpenters making less money, that's all.


  3. Whatever you do dont let PUGLIESE negotiate for us.He'll sell us down the river for a round of golf !

  4. Touche, you puggy fan !

  5. Put the money in the pockets of the rich and not the hard working people. Strike Anyone???

  6. I believe that Joel Cook is correct and would like to add to his comments.
    Developers are not bulding because there is an over supply of office space, costs are high and money is scarce.
    The laws of supply and demand will dictate what happens next,
    but it does not look good for new development over the next several years. Renovation work will pick up however, but not enough to keep us all working.
    Public work happens at the will of our government, but this is done on borrowed money which falls upon our children to pay back. Not a good situation.
    The threat of pay cuts are a typical scare tactic, and 20% is just not beliveable.
    There may be some consessions, a pay freeze is more likely.
    There is still going to be pressure from non union contractors. If we cannot keep them out, we will be forced to compete with them. There are two ways to do this.
    The first way is to produce higher quality work in less time, something we are being pushed to do every day.
    The second way is the pay cut.

    Mounting a succesfull campaign against the big non union contractor appears to be the most reasonable approach to keeping the few jobs we have left and stopping a pay cut.

    John Victor Jacobson


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