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NYC Construction Unions Rally for Abused Workers, Cite Need for Prevailing Wage

Photo by Michael Schwartz for New York Daily News

Photo by Michael Schwartz for New York Daily News

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Over 100 unionized construction workers were joined by politicians, labor leaders, and members of community action groups in the Bronx to rally around workers who walked off an unsafe and abusive jobsite.  The workers were employed by subcontractor U.S. Crane and Rigging, one of nearly a dozen iron work firms owned by the Queens-based Auringer family, which has a controversial past of collapsing equipment and allegations of underpayment.  

The workers, most of whom were not fluent in English, told the Observer that they were forced to work around-the-clock shifts with no breaks.  They also claimed that they were constantly insulted, underpaid, forced to work with insufficient safety equipment, and threatened with termination or suspension when they complained:

One of the workers, David Raris, said:

“You are hungry, you are tired, you work a lot of hours, you don’t sleep.  The boss, he says, ‘you hungry? Go home.  Sometimes you work like 80 hours in a week, and they pay you, like 20 hours,”

The march began at the Bronx County Courthouse and proceeded to two city-subsidized construction sites.  The action was the latest in a series of developments that have placed the building trades at odds with Mayor Bill de Blasio over his affordable housing plan and his position on the 421-a tax abatement program (which is still in negotiations).  Many contractors and developers linked to de Blasio’s anti-prevailing wage efforts have a history of scandal.  

When no deal could be reached earlier this year on the topic of 421-a tax abatement, it was left to the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York to determine wages on projects.  The two groups will begin negotiations in the coming weeks.  de Blasio’s abrupt opposition to the prevailing wage complicated matters and put him at odds with both workers and Governor Cuomo.  

But conditions like those facing the U.S. Crane and Rigging workers are a prime example of the need for a prevailing wage.  Even the typically pro-business Democrat, Ruben Diaz, Jr., joined the safety demonstration.  Diaz argued that development should only move forward if a balance can be found between fair wages and sustainable low-cost housing:

“Look, I’m the first one that says we have to continue to develop the borough of the Bronx, and we love economic development, but I will not do that at the expense of the exploitation of the people that I represent.”

Gary LaBarbera, President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, said his group was there both to support the workers and convince the Mayor and city to make greater allowances for unionized construction workers on the projects:

“We absolutely believe that there is a path to have affordable housing built with pathways to union construction and you know, we’ve made a number of proposals.  Today, what this is really about is the courage of ten workers who are going out on strike on a number of different jobs, who are working for a, really, an unscrupulous contractor.”


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