September 5, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Queens, NY – In August, Public Advocate Letitia James and a coalition of the Building Trades and community groups, called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to put a union stamp on his plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade – this week, elected officials saluting workers ahead of this year’s Labor Day Parade reiterated that same message at a special ceremony held at Queens Borough Hall on Thursday.
“As we create 200,000 units of affordable housing, we [also] need to create 200,000 new union jobs,” Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (D-34th District) told city and state officials.
The retired Sanitation worker and member of the NYS Assembly’s Labor Committee, called claims that affordable housing might be too costly to build using union labor, “absolutely unacceptable” and “totally ridiculous.”
“If you keep on building new construction using non-union labor, you’re going to diminish the stock of skilled workers that we have,” Assemblyman DenDekker told LaborPress.
Despite concerns, and his electoral mandate to tackle income inequality, the de Blasio administration, under the direction of Alicia Glen, Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, has forged ahead with an affordable housing plan seemingly devoid of any commitment to create the kinds of good jobs that unions guarantee.
Concerns about the lack of good jobs, as well as the number of truly affordable housing units, contributed to Borough President Melinda Katz’ recent decision to oppose the sprawling Astoria Cove housing development slated for the Queens waterfront.
“Hopefully, the denial of Astoria Cove might lead to some more discussion on union labor,” the borough president told LaborPress.
Assemblyman DenDekker pointed to Citi Field in Flushing as a good example of union labor in action.
“The Mets never missed a season,” the Queens representative said. “They moved from one stadium to another stadium – all built by union labor. It was done very quickly and very efficiently. That’s what we need to show developers. If you allow us to build it, we’ll build it more productively and safer than any other type of development.”
UFT Queens Coordinator Dermot Smyth credited the Labor Movement with a tradition of lifting up the entire nation, and moving it forward.
“Right now, there are too many voices out there in this nation speaking negatively about labor,” Smyth said. “Unions are a good thing. Historically, they have been an amazing thing for this country, and we have to get that light back on them.”
While it remains to be seen exactly where organized labor fits into the administration’s affordable housing plan, de Blasio’s people insist that the “Tale of Two Cities” mayor still believes that good union jobs are an integral part in uplifting more New Yorkers.
If he forgets, Assemblyman DenDekker said it’s his job to “make sure he gets that message.”