May 6, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The narrow confines of Exchange Place reverberated with the sounds of protest on May Day, as hundreds of workers from Local 78 and The New York Coalition to End Wage Theft denounced the developers of 20 Exchange Place for ignoring the needs of working men and women and hiring “one of the worst contractors in the city.”
“We stand in front of a building that epitomizes and personifies everything that is wrong with this country today,” said Edison Severino, business manager for the Lead & Hazardous Waste Laborers.
NY Insulation – a company that opponents charge has a “long history of gross safety violations” – is conducting dangerous asbestos abatement at 20 Exchange Place – the luxury condominium development taking shape inside the old City Bank Farmers Trust Building.
Metroloft, the largest residential manager in downtown Manhattan, maintains nearly three million square feet of space in the area – including the building at 20 Exchange Place – once the 4th tallest skyscraper in the world.
“We need to bring them to shame,” Severino continued. “We need to go to the boardroom and the streets. We need to take this everywhere.”
The action at 20 Exchange Place coincided with a Local 79 rally outside 140 West Street – a place where Magnum Realty has hired another non-union company – Metro Wrecking Industrial Inc. – to do demolition work on the 20-story building located there.
Coalition members say that hard-pressed non-union workers toiling at these and other sites, are routinely exposed to hazardous materials and cheated out of proper wages and benefits.
Local 78 member Abraham Hernandez urged all workers to educate themselves and to act in solidarity.
“That’s what has given us the rights we now have,” Hernandez said. “Unfortunately, we see corporations lobbying elected officials to them take away.”
New York State Assemblyman Francisco Moya [D-39th District], called rallying laborers “the very people that built this city and made it what it is today,” and urged them to further action.
“So, when we have buildings like this that are not willing to do the right thing by us, then we’ve got to stand up,” the assemblyman said. “If you want to live and work in New York, then you’ve got to get paid the wages that you deserve.”
In Contrast, labor advocates say that big developers are taking advantage of immigrant workers – many of whom, live in fear of deportation.
“That puts us in a very bad position,” Dominican activist Agustin Fortunato said. “It makes us vulnerable to any employer out there that wants to abuse us.”
Fortunato compared the economic realities here in New York City, to the plight of undocumented Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic who are exploited for their labor, and then discarded.
“They even go to Haiti and bring them in,” Fortunato said. “And when they don’t need them anymore, the throw them out. It’s the same thing here. We have immigrants looking for better opportunities who are not being protected.”
Sussie Lozada, political director and community organizer for UNITE HERE Local 100, said that many different industries in New York City are abusing low-wage immigrant workers.
“We see exploitation every day,” Lozada said.
Severino doesn’t expect Thursday’s rally outside 20 Exchange Place will actually move MetroLoft to reverse its hiring practices – but he and the other labor leaders participating in actions throughout the city this week, are putting deep-pocketed developers on notice – that the tide is changing.
“I don’t believe that we can win this job, but we need to send a clear message to the whole real estate industry in New York that they should not put profits before families,” Severino said. “We need to tell the millionaires and billionaires of this city that we’re not going to take it anymore.”