Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Relationship between city's construction unions, contractors getting ugly

BY Brian Kates

The happy building-boom marriage between the city's big construction unions and its major contractors is over - and the divorce is getting ugly.

In an industry hit hard by recession, contracts that affect 60,000 hardhats in 30 unions across the five boroughs are set to expire June 30.

Gone are the days when jobs were so plentiful that contractors and unionists referred to themselves as "cooperating partners."

Since the boom went bust, some unionized construction trades face joblessness as high as 25% - compared with 8.9% citywide. Developers are burdened with 52% more stalled projects this year than last.

Formal contract talks don't begin for most trades until May, but contractors have taken up arms, launching subway ads and a website exhorting union workers to "face the facts."

In one video, Building Trade Employers Association President Louis Coletti urges union workers to "embrace difficult changes that are needed."

The group, which represents contractors in the 28 trade associations that negotiate with unions, bolsters the message with pictures of more than a dozen big construction projects that recently went to nonunion labor.

A subway ad that ended last week featured posters depicting a hardhat and his family with the words, "Today 30% of union construction workers are unemployed."

The website claims union work costs 25% more than nonunion and if union workers don't want their jobs to go to "the enemy," the BTEA says, labor costs must drop.

"The economy is pushing us over a cliff," Coletti said. "Our members are willing to pay an 8%-10% premium for union labor, but they can't afford the 25%-30% premium."

Contractors are using the bad news to try to force concessions, including reducing benefits and allowing tools that cut back the number of necessary workers.

"We're saying that all work rules have to be productive, all jobs have to be productive," Coletti said. "I'm not prescribing specifics - different trades have different issues - but things have got to change."

Labor leaders are fuming.

Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council, an alliance of 15 unions, called the prenegotiation tactic "a real breach of trust" and "an attempt to circumvent collective bargaining."

At the same time, unions are aware that the old team spirit between management and worker evaporated when the housing market collapsed.

Bobby Bonanza, business manager of the Mason Tenders District Council, said the economy "went sour and along with it the relationship with the contractors got sour."

Bonanza insists his members "have made plenty of concessions." In recent years, he said, unions agreed to work rules that reduce nonproductive downtime, including staggered starting times and standardized holidays.

Outside Manhattan, he noted, most unions routinely grant so-called project labor agreements that cut costs by 20%.

There's only so much the rank and file can sacrifice, Bonanza said. "They're looking for 20%-25% reduction in hourly costs, and I don't believe that is going to happen," he said.


  1. Some comments from the NY Daily News...

    ohm718 said...

    I am a member of Local # 3 IBEW and I am one of the 30 % that is unemployed. I say give back NOTHING for the following reasons.

    1. Our contractors have contributed to the problems that we face by "cheating" on us by having split shops Union/nonunion.

    2. By installing violations as a matter of saving money knowing the city lacks the resources to inspect each job effectively.

    3. By using untrained undocumented and unsafe labor.

    4. The union construction worker is the most productive and safest worker there is and the contractors save money by that.

    5. We have earned out rates of pay the hard way through education and training. We work in conditions that the average person will not. We work in the cold heat rain and snow We work way up in the sky and underground we work with bright light and next to no light and through it all we WORK.

    letmeexplain said...

    Poor little pencil neck paper pushing office geeks think they can manipulate the hardest working union members in the world , well guess again , start reducing your cost by removing all those useless p.o.s. college kids walking around slowing the work force down to tell a 30+ year veteran to put his safety glasses on or hey where is your hard hat , the biggest waste of spending on the site are these so called safety observers, they are nothing more than little rats without union cards worming around a union job site looking to annoy trained professionals.

    The do nothing idiots who walk around with their ankle high $20 made in china tan boots and light ******* beige kakis with the starch pressed blue $5 shirt from the dollar store costing jobs millions by making a trained union tradesman go and spend the entire first day watching some u tube video on how not to get hit by a truck backing into a loading dock is wasting millions without getting a single thing completed.

    letmeexplain continuing...

    that 25% of increased labor cost to use union tradesmen on construction compared to non union , is totally false perhaps if the non union job was completed in the same exact time the union job was completed it may have some credibility.

    But the facts are Union jobs are completed 75% faster on average.

    Just ask Sam Zell he is losing his wrinkled shirt on 10th and 23rd street using undocumented workers never mind the vigorish payments to keep his concrete pouring from that ex con employing non signatory concrete company King concrete.

    This city has the best economy in the country the union workers receive a fair days pay and pay taxes unlike the cash hogs who take the little they earned risking their lives back across the boarder to where ever other than the United States.


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