February 7, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco and Marc Bussanich
Build Up NYC, a broad coalition of 250,000 private sector workers in the building trades and their affiliates, issued its first “developer report card” outside the grounds of City Hall on February 6. Read more and watch video
The Moinian Group, developers of a number problematic projects around the city involving tenant lawsuits and mandatory work stoppages, earned failing grades across the board, as hundreds of unionists and their supporters decried citywide construction projects that flagrantly shortchange workers.
“There are developers in this city who we support, and many of the building trades members and 32BJ members work on those projects,” Build Up NYC President Gary LaBarbera said. “We support responsible development. But what we don’t support - and what we won’t support - is irresponsible development.”
Despite enjoying the generous support of public money in the form of tax breaks and tax incentives, as well as the backing of officials in city government, Build Up NYC says a growing number of developers are nevertheless forging ahead with projects that fail to provide workers with job safety, fair wages or proper healthcare.
“We have to make sure that this city works for everybody,” 32BJ Vice-President Shirley Aldebol said. “Not for the richest few, not for the greedy, but for everybody.”
Build Up NYC insists that the Moinian Group is only the first anti-union developer in the city that will soon be getting a report card.
“This is day one of a sustainable campaign - we will be back,” LaBarbera said. “This is a big developer that won’t even give his own tenants electricity. He doesn’t care about his tenants. He doesn’t care about his workers. All he cares about is his money. That’s unacceptable because when you get the support of the city, and you get the support of elected officials, and you get pension investment, you better damn well care about your workers.”
NYC Controller John Liu said that as the greatest city in the world, New York must continue to build and grow - but that it can’t be done “in a cheap way.”
“We have to send a very strong message here,” Controller Liu said. “We are New York City - the greatest city in the world where we demand the highest of standards. A place where people from all over the world want to come. And when they come, they want to pursue the American dream. I, as an immigrant came with my family in search of the American Dream. But the American Dream is not to work your whole life in dangerous conditions, for low wages, with no benefits. That’s not the American Dream.”
The Moinian Group, founded by Joseph Moinian, maintains a portfolio of over 15 million square feet of property in Lower Manhattan, as well as on the West Side. The developer, along with Starwood Capital, is currently erecting a new Hilton Hotel at 237 West 54th Street. But Build Up NYC maintains that the group has a long track record of driving down area standards and employing contractors who engage in illegal activity.
Moinian Group workers at 100 John Street, meanwhile, have reportedly been toiling for the last 18 months without family health insurance and for sub-par wages.
“They want to pay less than the majority of rental buildings around this city,” Aldebol added. “We want to see new buildings in our city, but we want to see those buildings create good jobs for construction workers, hotel workers, cleaners, doormen, security guards and all New Yorkers.”
New York City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley - one of a handful of city council people, along with Letitia James and Gail Brewer who turned out for the vociferous rally - also stressed the importance of good post-construction jobs.
“When we put these buildings up and we build them strong, we need to make sure that we have good, safe family sustainable jobs that are working inside the buildings after they’re built,” Councilwoman Crowley said.
State Senator Daniel Squadron also said that New York City needs to keep growing - but not “on the backs of those that have the least.”
“We are not going to do it in a way that shrinks our middle class,” the state senator added. “We are going to do it where more people have a better chance of making a good life here in New York.”
The Build Up NYC campaign has already scored some minor victories. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, for instance, has adopted a new borough-wide resolution supporting “responsible development,” while another joint project between the Moinian Group and Starwood Capital taking place at Brooklyn Bridge Park has reportedly been temporarily put on hold due to issues Build Up NYC has raised.
New York City Council Speaker and mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn reported that just prior to the start of the rally, she actually received a call from the head of the Moinian Group requesting an-as-of-yet unscheduled meeting to talk about the criticisms being leveled at the developer.
“He said he runs a good organization, that there’s been a misunderstanding and that he will be meeting with me and Build Up NYC,” Speaker Quinn said. “Clearly, you are making progress. Clearly you are being heard.”
LaBarbera called unions “The vehicle to the middle class” and promised to keep up the fight against Moinian and other developers resistant to organized labor.
“We have the power together,” the Build Up NYC chief said. “The unions together, 250,000 private sector workers, the building trades, affiliated unions, 32BJ and the hotel trades. We have the power to make that change. And we are committed to make that change once and for all.”