|A strike of crane operators across New York City is looming.|
City developers are gearing up for a possible crane operator strike on Friday that could bring $10 billion in construction projects across the city to a screeching halt.
Threatened are scores of projects including such high-profile sites as the Nets arena in Brooklyn, the 34-story Gem Tower in midtown's Diamond District and the Weill-Cornell Medical Research Building on E. 69th St., according to the Real Estate Board of New York, a developers lobbying group.
A strike could also halt or slow construction on as much as $1 billion in public-sector projects, much of it school construction.
Insiders said a walkout at the Sept. 11 Memorial is unlikely but other Ground Zero sites could be hit.
"They'd be lunatics to strike at the Sept. 11 Memorial," one source linked to developers said. "Their members would lose a fortune and it would be a public relations nightmare, but nobody knows about the other towers."
Negotiations headed down to the wire Thursday with Operating Engineers Local 14, whose members operate the massive tower cranes vital to high-rise construction. The union's contract expires at midnight Thursday.
Operating Engineers Local 15, whose members maintain the cranes, were said to have reached an agreement late Thursday afternoon.
Developers targeted the two locals because they say existing contracts force them to hire hardhats with guaranteed six-figure salaries who do little or no work.
Contracts with 15 other city construction unions also are set to expire, but most have signed so-called project labor agreements that bar strikes at major job sites.
The Operating Engineers locals made no such deals and their members have authorized a strike if a contract is not inked on deadline.
Contractors are pressing the unions to phase out what they see as costly nonproductive positions. High on their list is elimination of Local 14's master mechanics, who must be hired whenever five pieces of heavy equipment or three tower cranes are in use.
With a base salary and overtime guaranteed by 12-hour work days, master mechanics frequently make more than $400,000 a year. Since repairs are done by the crane owner and not the contractor, it's no-work job. Master mechanics serve as glorified union shop stewards -- a part-time post in most locals.
A federal monitor appointed by the courts to root out corruption in the long mob-tainted District Council must sign off on any contract.
If Local 14 does strike, other trades are not expected to walk of jobs. Typically, separate entrances are set up for members of other unions so they do not have to cross a picket line, several sources said.
At a public forum in May, Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri said his department and other city agencies, including the NYPD had developed contingency plans to guard against possible strike violence or sabotage.
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