Sunday, August 26, 2012

Nearly all unions climb aboard Hudson Yards labor-cost deal

Related Cos. hammers out worker pact that should get first half of megaproject rolling 

By Daniel Massey

After months of tense negotiations, the Related Cos. and the city's construction unions have agreed in principle to a series of cost-saving measures that will help push the $15 billion Hudson Yards project forward and ensure that it is built with union labor.

Some four dozen unions covering more than a dozen trades agreed to cut wage and benefit packages and change work rules in order to grab a piece of a massive construction project that could keep their members working for at least 10 years. The overall deal, known as a project labor agreement, is not yet final, but last week, District Council of Carpenters delegates voted to approve a 10% wage and benefit reduction for work on Hudson Yards, the last of the participating unions to agree to help Related control costs.

In the homestretch

"We're not done, but we've made the final turn," said Paul Fernandes, chief of staff of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. "Everyone has done in their own way things that are very substantial, not just nickel-and- dime stuff, but substantial changes to both the way they're compensated and the way they work on projects."

The missing piece now is the operating engineers who run the cranes that are crucial to major construction projects. Their union does not sign project labor agreements, although it's possible a separate understanding could be forged with Related.

Just for starters

The project labor agreement covers the first half of the Hudson Yards project: two large commercial buildings, a residential skyscraper, a mixed-use tower and a retail complex encompassing about 8 million square feet on the eastern rail yards. Both sides expressed optimism that a further deal will be worked out when construction is ready to begin on the remainder of the project.

Both Related executives and leaders of the Building and Construction Trades Council approached the negotiations with a singular focus, with Related Chief Executive Stephen Ross and council president Gary LaBarbera personally engaging in the talks.

Related needed cost savings to help make Hudson Yards affordable to tenants and competitive with commercial buildings being constructed in lower Manhattan. With the first building—a 46-story tower to house the corporate headquarters of retailer Coach—slated to start rising in the fall, time was running out for a deal. A Related spokeswoman declined to comment.

Organized labor had a major incentive to make a deal, with some trades facing unemployment levels of 25% or higher. Hudson Yards is the biggest development project in the city since Rockefeller Center was built in the 1930s. Some 13 million square feet of construction is planned for the 26-acre site, creating an estimated 39 million "man-hours" of work.

"The dollar costs, what they're spending to build it, the amount of time, the construction jobs, the number of carpenter hours—they're all huge," said Mike Bilello, executive secretary-treasurer of the District Council of Carpenters. "There was a prospect of putting a lot of our members to work, and it's real now.

It's a good deal for our members." Mr. Fernandes compared the discounts being offered by the unions to those a shopper would get at a warehouse store. "When you walk into Costco and buy three months of groceries, you pay a lot less than when you're buying a week's worth," he explained."

Related puts nearly 8 million square feet of construction on the table for the first phase of the project, plus all the other work associated with people moving into the buildings, when you buy in bulk you sometimes get a better deal."

Driving a hard bargain

Related drove a hard bargain in the negotiations and threatened to build some of the project nonunion if it did not get the savings it needed. In one instance, it decided to build the Coach headquarters with reinforced concrete instead of steel, a move that sent a signal to ironworkers that they needed to get on board.

Some 80 meetings were held in the past few months, and there were an uncountable number of phone calls, conference calls and exchanges of documents via email in what Mr. Fernandes called a "fully consuming process."

On nearly two dozen occasions, Mr. Ross made personal appeals to leaders of various unions to let them know that the project would not be feasible in the current market unless they served up significant savings.

At one point late in the spring, momentum temporarily stalled. Related had one-on-one conversations with just about every union leader involved to help jump-start talks.

Related also made it clear it wasn't just asking for savings from the union; it was hustling to increase efficiencies on its end as well. The company changed its bidding system for subcontractor work, eliminated intermediaries from its procurement process and streamlined its management structure.

"Both sides had to change the approach to how it is we promote development that uses union labor in this city," Mr. Fernandes said, "particularly given the current set of financial and economic challenges, which don't appear to be going away anytime soon."



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  2. I'AM going crazy or something or is every union leader (ALL TRADES) just bending over to all these contractors? Every new "JOB" out there is a "PLA" job right or wrong? Granted we "NEED" all the work we can get right now and the "HUDSON YARDS" project is huge but even with the cost saving the contractors are "STILL" making a ton of "MONEY" off our backs!!! If all jobs are going "PLA" want the sense of getting a "NEW CONTRACT" AND A "RAISE" because all they do is take away YOUR RAISE anyway and make you work "EIGHT HOURS" a day for less!! LIKE i said all "UNIONS" need the "WORK BIG TIME" but where does it end with these "PLA" JOBS? I'am union man thru and thru but this time around(MEANING SLOW WORK PERIOD)its getting "CRAZY OUT THERE". Lets hope for the "BETTER TIMES" and maybe our LEADERS WILL STOP THIS "BS"THATS GOING ON AND GROW SOME "BALLS"and fight harder aganist "THESE PLA JOBS" GO UNION!!!!!!!

  3. Keep voting Democratic.... Obama Nation.... (Please Don't) The Dems only concern is lining the pockets of the Union Leaders with Billions in Union dues being paid by tradespeople... These workers are the ones that suffer per the article, with reduction of wages & benefits....... Get smart people & vote Republican!

  4. RE: CONCERN MEMBER August 26, 2012 8:26 AM. That 100/Hr pay package, a pipe dream. Thats the "sweetner" walsh said had to be part of the negaotiations for mobility to stick. What a bum's rush. You will never see that $$. & whats worse is that developers & contractors will engineer a 130,000 sq ft project to have three contractors, never to go over the 50,000 sq ft limit therefore tailoring each & every job to be part of the reductions. The carpenters are getting hosed in the name of "economies of scale" and the rich keep getting richer off our backs.

  5. Does anyone know how the 10% wage and benefit reduction is being allocated? I’m really interested in how much is coming out of the wages vs the benefits.

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