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‘No actions, no answers, nothing’: Union carpenters rally outside City Hall over Willets Point construction

Jul. 13, 2023 By John Schilling

It was a sea of orange outside City Hall in Lower Manhattan on Thursday, July 13, as union carpenters and elected leaders gathered together to call out the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) for breaking their promise to employ union workers in the construction of Willets Point.

For the project, first announced decades ago, the EDC hired East Coast Drilling to oversee construction. Now, union carpenters are calling out the EDC for allowing contractors to employ non-union workers for the construction at Willets Point and not requiring workers to undergo a state-certified apprenticeship program to ensure the project’s buildings are built safely by “skilled labor.”

Photo by John Schilling

“New York City is a union town,” NYC District Council of Carpenters Representative Michael Piccirello chanted with the crowd. “If we don’t get it, shut it down.”

“We’re not going to make them go and build a huge project without us,” added NYC District Council of Carpenters Representative Phillip Fiorentino. “We’re here, and we’re not f**king leaving … we’re not going nowhere.”

With chants that included “Shame on EDC” and “Carpenters rise,” the carpenters held up signs, one of which displayed an excerpt from page 66 of the EDC’s Willets Point Development Phase 1 Request For Proposal. 

“During the construction phase of the project, Purchaser shall employ contractors that pay prevailing wage, and shall hire workers from state-certified apprenticeship programs for the construction of all non-residential buildings in the Project,” the excerpt read.

NYC and Vicinity District Council of Carpenters Executive Secretary-Treasurer Joseph Geiger called the EDC “a sham” and expressed frustration over their decision to go against this promise and without any explanation.

“There’s been no action, no answers, nothing,” Geiger said. “Two months later, we have to stand out here today in the summer heat, demanding one simple thing: EDC, enforce your own God damn rules. If a contractor has no state-certified apprenticeship program, then they don’t belong in Willets Point or any taxpayer-funded job site for that matter.”

In a statement to QNS, the EDC responded to these claims, saying the development will create over 14,000 “good-paying” construction jobs “for New Yorkers.”

“The Willets Point transformation is a once-in-a-generation development that will bring the largest 100% affordable housing project in New York City in over 40 years, including a new public school, open space, and a privately funded soccer-specific stadium to a long-neglected community,” the EDC released in a statement. “The Building and Construction Trades Council, including the Carpenters Union, have been a pivotal partner in this project and we look forward to continuing these conversations.”

State Senator Jessica Ramos, chair of the committee on labor, echoed Geiger’s sentiment at the rally, calling on Mayor Eric Adams and the EDC to make things right.

“I was told that there would be no problem on this project, that everything was going to be done by the letter and that my community would be able to count on good, union jobs,” Ramos said. “You’re right. It is bull****.”

During the rally, City Council members — both Democrat and Republican — from districts across the city also stood beside the carpenters to express their disapproval of the EDC’s inconsistency and point out the long-term impact it could have on the city. 

“EDC is nothing but liars,” said Councilwoman Joann Ariola. “The consequences are about to come.”

“State-certified apprenticeship programs exist for a reason,” Councilwoman Sandra Ung added. “It’s to make sure that we keep them safe on the job, and it’s critical for the safety of all New Yorkers.”

Councilwoman Jennifer Gutierrez pointed out the long-term effect the EDC’s decision could have on the carpenters themselves, adding that keeping their commitment to union workers is “the bare minimum.”

“If we do not fulfill these commitments about apprenticeships and labor jobs, you cannot afford to live here,” Gutierriez said. “We are 100% a union town. We have to be about it.”

“These projects must be 100% union labor,” added Councilman Shekar Krishnan. “The carpenters have literally built this city … we will stand by your side and fight every day.”

Of all the elected leaders, however, this rally was perhaps most personal to Brooklyn Councilwoman Sandy Nurse, a former carpenter and construction worker who went through a pre-apprenticeship program.

“This isn’t the first time EDC has done some s**t like this,” Nurse said. “We are going to make sure that EDC lives up to the promises that they made. Promises made need to be promises kept every single time when it comes to our public dollars.” 

“You are making our city safer with the construction you do,” Bronx Councilwoman Pierina Ana Sanchez. “You are building pathways to the middle class. We have your back.”

As the rally started to come to a close, New York City Comptroller Brad Lander arrived to show his support of the union and call out the EDC along with his colleagues.

“The entire purpose of economic development in New York City is to create good jobs for New Yorkers,” Lander said. “Let’s make sure that happens. We’re going to keep raising our voice and demanding.”

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