By Bendix Anderson
November 10, 2010
It’s time for union members to speak up, “We want to give organized labor a voice in what gets built,” said Stringer.
Since he was elected in 2005, Stringer’s office has encouraged union members to apply to join their local community boards. He repeated the invitation on October 20 in his speech which he personally delivered to the members at the meeting of Construction & General Building Laborers’ Local 79.
Stringer’s recruiting efforts have already shown results. Throughout New York City, members of unions representing carpenters, municipal workers, and construction trades, among others, now sit on dozens of community boards that had few if any union members five years ago. For example, New York City community boards now include at least eight members of Local 79.
After years of trying to work with community boards as an organizer for Local 79, Anthony Reed now enjoys being a member of Community Board 12, in the Wakefield neighborhood of the Bronx, where he lives. “I have a little bit of their ear,” he said.
Unions need the support of their neighborhoods — and the community boards that represent them — to bring new construction jobs to New York City. Large developments almost always need the approval of local community boards before work can start, because community boards have the power to approve or disapprove exemptions to local zoning codes, and large projects almost always need some kind of zoning variance.”It really starts in the local community,” said Stringer.
Until recently, community boards and union members often opposed each other. Unions that represent the building trades typically favor large construction projects that would bring jobs to their members. But community boards have often opposed large projects, sometimes fearing developments such as new apartments and condos may push housing prices higher in the surrounding neighborhood. Including union members on community boards can help balance the discussion, said Stringer.
”Participation is the first step to reform,” said Jessica Silver, deputy director of community affairs for Stringer’s office, who gave a presentation to more than 600 Local 79 members at the membership meeting on how community boards work and how to apply for membership.
New York City residents can apply to join a community board through the office of their borough president. The first step is to attend a meeting of the local community board. All meetings are open to the public. Each borough president appoints community board members. The Manhattan Borough President’s office looks for “applicants with histories of involvement in their communities, expertise and skill sets that are helpful to community boards, attendance at community board meetings, and knowledge of issues impacting their community.
“ Serving on a community board requires a major commitment of time — there are at least three meetings a month, usually held in the evenings.
Union members who join community boards may go on to even bigger things — even a career in politics, giving unions an even stronger voice. “It is a way of cultivating people to take leadership positions,” said John Delgado, business manager for Local 79.