NEW YORK, N.Y.—“I’m on strike and now I’m in the building trades. This is like a double win,” said Han, a 28-year-old Spectrum cable-TV electrician who gave only his first name, one of the thousands of workers who packed Union Square for a “Count Me In” rally against Hudson Yards developer The Related Companies’ use of nonunion labor May 8.
“I want to support all the working-calls and middle-class people who are under attack,” the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 member added. “I’m seeing the same thing with teachers, nurses, ironworkers, carpenters.” After the rally ended, he was one of several building-trades workers who walked over to the New School a few blocks away to join striking graduate-student workers’ picket line.
The mood in the plaza at the north end of Union Square was festive, with people getting a chance to hang out with workmates off the job, waving gold-and-black “Solidarity” signs from the District Council 9 painters union, and one group of men chanting “Fuck Re-lated (clap clap clap-clap-clap-clap)” to the rhythm of “Let’s go, Yankees.” But underneath…it was deadly serious.
“We’ve been on strike for 407 days today,” said Spectrum shop steward James Himko. “They want to take away everything—our pensions, health care, rank and file, foremen. They just don’t want unions. It’s all about corporate greed.” He’s been surviving by picking up construction work through Local 3’s M Division.
“I’m here for union rights, for our benefits, for our pension, for solidarity,” said B, a 46-year-old Laborers Local 79 member from the Bronx. Related’s decision to use nonunion labor for the second phase of the massive Hudson Yards development, she added, is “taking money out of our pockets,” said. She worked on a retail building at Hudson Yards from September until last week.
Ed, a 47-year-old Glaziers Local 1087 member from Howard Beach, Queens, suggested that unions should take money out of Related’s pockets by withdrawing their pension-fund investments. “We’ve got $4 billion of our money in there, and if they don’t change, we’re going to take our money back,” he said.
He’s been in the union for 20 years, and recently got his son in. “This is all for him,” he explained. “He needs it in the future.”
For 51-year-old Spectrum worker George Harrison—“you’re not going to believe my last name,” he joked—the something that moved him to come out was “struggling against open-shop, union-busting, and in particular, the Spectrum strike.” In the 13 months they’ve been out, he’s been surviving by doing odd jobs such as delivering newspapers, and like Himko, getting some work through Local 3’s M Division.
“We know that corporations want to have the lion’s share, but they’re not the ones doing the work,” he said. “They don’t want to give the little people their fair share.”
“We’re losing too many jobs to the nonunion sector,” said Alex Garcia, 49, an Ironworkers Local 40 member for more than 25 years. “I’ve got a family to feed.”
Garcia, who grew up in the Fulton Houses public-housing development in Chelsea, said union wages enabled him to get out of the projects and get his family a home in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx. The difference between union and nonunion labor, he averred, is that “we’re trained and skilled workers.”
“I’m union and I’m proud,” he added. “You can count me in.”