NEW YORK, N.Y.—“You know why the Indian rain dance works?” CountMeIn organizer Bernard Callegari asked the crowd at 50th Street and Sixth Avenue. “Because they don’t stop dancing until it rains.”
That, he said, was a metaphor for the strategy of the CountMeIn movement, which marked its one-year anniversary Oct. 23 with a march up Sixth Avenue to the Related Companies offices in the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle. The developer set off the movement when it decided to use a mix of nonunion and union labor on the second phase of the Hudson Yards project.
“It’s not fair,” said Alexander, an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 member from Brooklyn currently working at Hudson Yards who did not want to give his last name. “They’re undercutting our wages. They’re bringing in nonunion electricians, carpenters, all trades. Those guys work unsafe. We learn our trade. We make sure we’re certified.”
He added that the developer is cutting corners by using prefab sheet metal and conduits for wiring. On union jobs, he said, “we bend our stuff” to make sure conduits are tailored to the place they’re being installed.
“We’re looking for a fair wage,” said Jose from the Bronx, another Local 3 electrician who worked at Hudson Yards for a little less than a year. “All these corporations making millions of dollars on these condominiums, and they want us to work for 80% of our wage.”
“I’m here to fight for my family, my brothers and sisters, and my future against greedy developers in New York City that want to replace us with workers they can exploit.” — Ryan McCarthy, Insulators, Local 12
“It’s also about safety,” he added. “You have guys who are not trained. They haven’t done all the years we have in the apprenticeship, getting our certifications. They want them to work next to us. It’s not fair.”
With piñatas of Related executives Stephen Ross, Bruce Beal, and Jeff Blau up front, the march stretched for three blocks in the left lanes of Sixth Avenue. One group tried to take the full street, but were quickly hemmed back in by police on motorscooters and the urgings of union marshals.
“If it ain’t union, shut it down,” they chanted, as both tourists and union members held up phones to film the march.
As it neared Columbus Circle, a middle-aged woman wearing a green CountMeIn bandanna on her head pounded a cowbell to the beat of “we’re fired up, can’t take it no more.” Others chanted “Fuck you, Steve Ross” to the rhythm of “Let’s go, Rangers.”
Ross “likes to paint us in the press as being thugs,” Mike Hellstrom of the Mason Tenders District Council told the crescent of marchers outside the Time Warner Center. “A collective bargaining agreement means that two sides agree to temporary labor peace. Without an agreement, there is no peace.”
“This fight will not stop until we have an agreement for everyone at 50 Hudson Yards and on the West Side,” New York City Building and Construction Trades Council President Gary LaBarbera added. He said it was time for Related to “start acting like adults, stop the lawsuits and the nonsense, and come to the table.”
“I’m here to fight for my family, my brothers and sisters, and my future against greedy developers in New York City that want to replace us with workers they can exploit,” said Ryan McCarthy, an Insulators Local 12 member from Queens.
He’s been working at Hudson Yards for the past year, but as the job he’s on is part of the project’s first phase, it’s “100% union.”
If developers can get away with bringing in nonunion labor, he said, “working conditions would devolve into chaos. People would get hurt. They’d exploit the workers they’d replace us with.”
As the march dispersed, the pavement on Columbus Circle was covered with mock $100 bills from “The Empire of Related,” with Ross’s image on the front and “In Wealth We Trust” on the back.