By TESSA BERENSON
Hundreds of union carpenters went on strike this week over a contract dispute in a move that threatens a number of ongoing projects in the city.
The strike comes after over a year of contentious contract negotiations between the New York City District Council of Carpenters and the Manufacturing Woodworkers Association of Greater New York, an association of contractors. The carpenters' contract expired June 30, and they have balked at the association's request for a 10-year deal with lower benefits and a wage freeze on the cabinetmakers and wood installers, 350 of whom stopped working Monday to protest.
Stephen McInnis, president of the District Council of Carpenters, has said the union would agree to a 10-year contract with wage negotiations possible, but won't compromise on benefits.
"We feel we've made a number of concessions throughout these negotiations, and we just can't concede any more," said Kwame Patterson, a spokesperson for the carpenters. "There's no more to give."
The contractors, however, believe the district council prematurely halted discussion. "They called a strike immediately when the contract expired," said Catherine Condon, an advocate for their association. "We were in negotiations and they just took a hard line."
Ms. Condon said settling on a contract is crucial to the survival of the unionized woodworking industry in New York, and blamed the industry's loss of market share on union workers doing jobs for nonunion contractors. "One of the reasons for the [industry's] decline is that union installers have been installing work in Manhattan that is made by nonunion shops," she said. "We are constantly competing with nonunion workers so at the moment we're just trying to get a contract that will make for fair competition in New York."
A consultant to developers in the city said as nonunion contractors have taken on more complicated jobs in the last several years, the carpenters have become increasingly desperate for work, causing some to resort to nonunion gigs, thereby accelerating the trend.
"The union guys have been unable to hold out. They’ve had to put bread on the table, and they’re taking more and more nonunion jobs," said the consultant, who requested anonymity to protect relationships in the industry. "The nonunion labor pool is starting to be very competitive in terms of skills with the union workforce because in many respects, it’s one and the same. It overlaps tremendously now."
Ms. Condon urged the district council to resume contract negotiations and end the strike. "Let the men go back to work," she said. "Let them get paid."
But Mr. Patterson said the strike is necessary despite the financial toll it takes on the workers. "This really hurts [the carpenters'] pockets, but this is the only recourse we have at this point," he said. "We're standing by the phones waiting for [an acceptable contract], but that hasn't come in yet."
For now, both sides are hopeful that the strike will end soon, but neither appears willing to make the next concession. The union said many large construction projects around the city could be halted by the strike, including 4 World Trade Center, General Motors' building on Fifth Avenue and the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle.
"The carpenters walking off can easily shut down an entire contract, because they have so much responsibility, especially with interior work," the consultant said.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
By TESSA BERENSON