A Dozen Walk Off BK Navy Yard Job; Get Fresh Start With Union Ironworkers

May 12, 2017
By Joe Maniscalco 

Ironworkers VP James Mahoney (r) welcomes striking worker.

Brooklyn, NY - A dozen non-union ironworkers helping to erect a 16-story office building inside the Brooklyn Navy costing hundreds of millions of dollars, walked off the job early Wednesday afternoon, citing dangerous working conditions, poor pay and lack of benefits. 

“I’m trying to do what’s best for me, and the union is the better way to go,” ironworker Omar Satta said outside the expansive waterfront complex’s Clinton and Flushing avenue entrance.

Roughly 75 members of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union, as well as Laborers Local 79, and the NYC Community Alliance for Workers Justice, were there to welcome Satta and his co-workers into the ranks of organized labor.

“These workers are no longer alone — they are one of 100,000 union building tradesmen,” Ironworkers International Vice-President James Mahoney said.

Begun last year, the Dock 72 building project represents a vital piece of an overall 4.5 million square-foot redevelopment of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. 

WeWork, the multi-billion-dollar co-working conglomerate, is anchoring 222,000 square feet of the new facility, which the de Blasio administration hopes will “bring ideas, innovators, and start-ups to the Yard.” 

According to striking ironworkers, however, two powerhouse contractors involved with the project — Gilbane Building and FJM Ferro — are currently engaged in some pretty text book cases of worker exploitation, including placing their poorly compensated employees in danger. 

“You literally had to work by yourself,” striking ironworker Frank Spiegel told LaborPress on Wednesday. “They didn’t even want people to work together. God forbid, something happens to you and you don’t have anybody next to you.”

FJM Ferro’s anti-worker record includes a litany of safety complaints, as well as the 2010 arrest of then Chief Operating Officer Joseph Casucci for allegedly scheming to cheat workers out of more than $450,000 in wages. 

Gilbane’s continued use of non-union labor on major development projects — including the contentious redevelopment of One Wall Street in the Financial District — has provoked strong backlash from the Building Trades and other worker allies. Last week, Macklowe Properties abruptly decided to replace Gilbane with a new contractor on the One Wall Street project.

“FJM Ferro does not provide a safe work environment,” striking FJM safety consultant Tommy Roumbakos reported in white paper put out by the New York City Community Alliance for Workers Justice. “They do not provide safe work habits. There are no benefits. As the safety consultant, I know that employees without proper safety certification are conducting welding for FJM. I have witnessed many unsafe work practices and health and safety conditions. The company does not report accidents.”

Over the last two years, more than 30, mostly non-union construction workers, have died on the job. 

Union members cheer striking non-union ironworkers.

FJM Ferro declined to comment when contacted about this week’s Brooklyn Navy Yard walkout, but since 2014, an increasing number of non-union ironworkers fed up with both FJM Ferro, and another notorious crane erection company called Auringer and its many affiliates — have decided to walk off the job and ally with organized labor. 

“This is a big step for me — but it’s a better step with a brighter future,” ironworker Joshua Melendez told LaborPress when he walked off his non-union job at 111 West 57th Street last June. “There’s no light at the end of the tunnel with [Auringer affiliate] US Crane & Rigging.”

Ironworker LaFondra Brown walked her Auringer-affiliated job site at East 214 Street and White Plains Road in the Bronx in the fall of 2014, citing outrageous sexual harassment on the part of supervisors. 

“I get all kinds of stuff,” Brown told LaborPress. “You name it, I get it. But after [tolerating it] for so long, you can’t take it anymore.” 

Wednesday's walkout at the Brooklyn Navy Yard represents the largest group of Irownworkers to walk off the job together and join the union, thus far.   

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