Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Concrete talks resume as strike enters Day 2

Widening impact seen if work stoppage continues; key sticking point seen as management's demand for a 20% wage cut on residential and hotel projects.

By Daniel Massey

Negotiators from the concrete workers union and an industry association were expected to meet Tuesday afternoon in an attempt to put an end to a two-day walkout that threatens to bring construction at the World Trade Center site to a crawl.

The walkout began Monday, at a section of the World Trade Center transit hub, World Trade Center Tower 1 and other sites scattered across the city, more than a month after the contract covering 2,700 concrete workers expired. Talks between Laborers' Locals 6a, 18a and 20 of the Cement and Concrete Workers of New York and the Cement League, an industry association, have been extended several times past deadlines. There's been progress on most issues, but management's demand for a 20% wage reduction on residential and hotel projects has been a sticking point, an industry source said.

Workers were not striking at the World Trade Center Memorial, which is scheduled to be completed in time for the upcoming tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. But they did walk off their jobs at the new Weill Cornell Medical Center research building on East 69th Street, the industry source said, even though that project is covered by a labor agreement that includes a no-strike clause. An arbitration hearing on that walkout could come as soon as Wednesday.

And they stopped working at Extell Development’s Carnegie 57 luxury hotel and hi-rise project across from Carnegie Hall, even though that project is covered by a no-strike labor agreement. Workers showed up Monday and Tuesday and then left, said David Rothstein, an Extell executive vice president. He said the walkout has impacted scheduling at the site and that a hearing on whether it violated the labor agreement is set for later Tuesday afternoon.

“We don't believe they have any standing to strike PLA sites,” said Louis Coletti, referring to the agreements the industry reached with unions to help jumpstart construction in the face of the downturn. “There's a very specific no-strike provision in them.”

Union officials and officials from the Cement League did not return calls seeking comment.

Union officials have said a full-blown strike could stall work at 34 sites across the city, but the stoppages thus far have been sporadic and the unions have yet to set up formal picket lines.

Workers on Tuesday speculated that construction on the rest of the World Trade Center site would slow significantly if the strike extended into a second week. And the industry source said members of other trades could be laid off if the strike lasted that long.

The workers who milled around just north of an entrance to the World Trade Center site said they gave up a negotiated pay raise less than two years ago to help contractors through tough times. They didn't want to strike, but they said the contractors left them with no choice.

“It's unfortunate that it has to come to this,” said Austin Nolan, a Local 18a member who had been working on a tunnel into Tower 1. “But it's a sacrifice you have to make. It's for the long run. Nobody can afford a 20% pay cut.”


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