Building Trades

NYS Building Trades Barred From Columbia Real Estate Symposium

July 30, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco

Why were unions barred from a public forum?

Why were unions barred from a public forum?

New York, NY – Members of the NYC Building Trades were kept out of a public construction forum jointly sponsored by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation [GSAPP] and JDS Development on Wednesday afternoon. 

LaborPress was also denied access to the six-hour symposium billed as a “conversation between designers, scholars, builders, and real estate experts who seek to illuminate the transitions necessary to renew the field and more efficiently implement the designs of today and the desired changes for the future.”

Santos Rodriguez, director of Community Affairs for the Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, paid $55 in advance for a symposium ticket, only to have his money refunded without explanation prior to the July 29 event. 

Unions were not welcome here.

Unions were not welcome here.

Others associated with the Building Trades, including Chris Confrey from Operating Engineers Local 14, also had their money inexplicably refunded and were denied entrace to the symposium held inside Alfred Lerner Hall at 2920 Broadway.

“What is he [JDS principal Michael Stern] hiding?” Rodriguez said outside on the sidewalk. “Why would you not allow someone to come to a public forum when we’re willing to pay for a ticket?” 

JDS Development is involved in numerous big time building projects throughout the city, despite being sited multiple times for federal and city safety violations on its worksites — including an OSHA investigation into the death of a 27-year-old construction worker killed at 326 West 37th Street in 2014. 

Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York President Gary LaBarbera called this week’s lockout a “new low” for JDS Development.

“But it’s no surprise since they have a track record of hiring contractors who systematically discriminate, put the safety of their workers at risk and steal from their employees,” LaBarbera said in a statement. “JDS’ efforts to stifle civic engagement sends a clear message that it is afraid that its record will be exposed.”

Organizers of the second annual real estate symposium claimed that the event was “closed to the press” despite a list of panelists that included Metro and New York Times correspondent Matt Chaban and Vanity Fair writer Paul Goldberger. Others expected on the panel included Margaret Newman of the Municipal Art Society of New York and Vishaan Chakrabarti from GSAPP. 

“This arrogant display of disrespect by JDS for Columbia University's long-standing tradition of tolerance of different views should be a wake-up call to the campus community," LaBarbera continued. "We are calling upon Columbia University and The Center for Urban Real Estate to sever all ties with JDS and cease hosting any additional events."

Efforts to exclude members of the Building Trades may not have been entirely effective, however. According to those at the scene on Wednesday, at least one prominent member of the Building Trades was able to gain access to the symposium after also purchasing a ticket in advance. 

Columbia University has yet to respond to requests for comment. 

July 29, 2015

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