Building Trades

Mayor Signs $5.3B PLA's

PLA agreementNOVEMBER 24th -- Mayor Mike Bloomberg today announced the signing of long-awaited Project Labor Agreements (PLA's) worth $5.3 Billion in public projects over the next four years. The signing of the PLA's caps an eight-month negotiation process between the Trades and the City administration. These are the first-ever PLA's for City agencies. The PLA for the School Construction Authority builds on a previous PLA agreement. The announcement was made at the Chelsea Career and Technical Education High School at Spring and Broome Streets in Soho.

Calling the PLA deals "the economic downturn's silver lining," the Mayor said hard economic times have allowed the City to win $300 million in savings from labor unions by exacting concessions in work rules and overtime, including a waiver of Wicks Law provisions. (Hear audio of the Mayor here.) Building and Construction Trades Council President Gary LaBarbera, in response to a question, countered by noting that the PLA's put savings dollars back into the City's capital budget, where they will be used to fund an additional 1,800 unionized construction jobs. (Hear audio of Mr. LaBarbera here.)

The solid turnout of labor leaders at the event -- including top officials of the Mason Tenders, Ironworkers, Painters, Elevator Constructors, and others -- was a clear indication that they support the PLA's and believe their funding guarantees will be instrumental in helping many union members ride out the recession. The PLA's mean different things to different unions, with some -- like Mason Tenders Local 79 -- looking to see significant hiring. Others, like the Elevator Constructors, are expecting just a small boost.

Mason Tenders rank and fileBuilding Trades Employers' Association President Lou Coletti thanked the Mayor for stimulating jobs and said that his contractors would "compete very heavily" for the work, thus insuring greater savings for the City. (Hear audio of Mr. Coletti here.)

Overtime is capped at time-and-a-half for work performed from Monday through Saturday with no restriction on the ability of contractors to schedule overtime to meet deadlines. All trades have agreed to standardization of terms and flexibility of scheduling at job sites, including eight standard holidays, 8-hour day, 40-hour weeks, flexible start times, and coordinated lunch periods. Strikes are prohibited even if broader work stoppages exist outside the work sites.

The Mayor's office said the PLA's will fund 32,000 construction jobs over the four year life of the agreements. He was joined by Reverend Jacques A. DeGraff of the Minority Business Leadership Council, who noted that the PLA's have specific provisions to increase the numbers of minorities and women who can be placed on construction jobs. For contracts and subcontracts of less than $1 million, managed by non-union Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises, the contractor will be allowed to fill as many as half of the first eight jobs on a project with their own workforce. The PLA's commit unions to the goal of hiring 45% of apprentices from the ranks of minorities, women, returning veterans, and new high school graduates of theCity's public schools.

Here is a breakdown of the four Project Labor Agreements which were finalized today:

The first covers $942 million in projects for the general renovation and rehabilitation of existing City-owned buildings and structures.

Delgado and the MayorThe second and third, worth $1.9 billion, covers eleven large-scale, new construction projects, including a new Police Academy, a new branch library in Far Rockaway, and the City's new 911 dispatching center.

The fourth PLA, between the School Construction Authority (SCA) and the Building and Trades Construction Council, funds $2.5 billion or renovation and rehabilitation of schools.

The Mayor made it clear that other PLA's are in the works. including one which would cover an additional $509 million of work at wastewater treatment plants, housing properties owned by the City and at other sites.

Laborers Local 78 Takes on Bank of America

78 protests Bank of AmericaLaborers Local 78 is challenging America's biggest bank -- which got$7.5 billion in federal stimulus dollars -- to channel some of that money into hiring Union workers. Local 78 organizers Leonardo Narranjo (left) and Ramon Woodcock were part of a crew that set up two 12-foot rats outside the Bank of America branch on Murray and Greenwich in lower Manhattan, not far from the World Trade Center site.

Narranjo and Woodcock were looking to make an impression of new Bank of America hires who were there to attend a seminar. They passed out flyers that said the huge bank had hired a non-Union contractor, Synatech, Inc., to perform asbestos abatement instead of giving the work to a unionized contractor. In the manner of Michael Moore, Narranjo and Woodcock asked passers-by to call Bank of America Chairman Kenneth Lewis at 704-386-5687 and ask him to hire a responsible, Union contractor instead.

City Council and Mayor Approves Landmark Construction Safety Legislation

City Council and Mayor Approves Landmark Construction Safety Legislation

by Neal Tepel

Following the tragic fire at the former Deutsche Bank building located at 130 Liberty Street that took the lives of firefighters Joseph Graffagnino Jr. and Robert Beddia, the Mayor ordered a comprehensive review of oversight and operations at construction, demolition, and abatement sites.  As a result, city council legislation focused on four areas: inspection processes, general oversight, field operations, and data sharing. Five bills were signed in to law in June and four signed September 3, 2009.

Introductory Number 993-A, requires registered design professionals to submit plans and details to the Buildings Department regarding the building or section of a building to be demolished using handheld mechanical devices such as chainsaws and jackhammers.  It also enhances Construction Code requirements for mechanical demolitions using non-handheld devices such as bobcats or backhoes.  All demolition projects are complicated and involve sophisticated equipment. The requirements of Introductory Number 993-A significantly increase the safety of that work by having DOB review plans before issuing a permit for demolition work.

Introductory Number 994-A, requires the uniform color-coding of standpipe and sprinkler systems and professional certification that these systems have been properly color-coded.  Color-coding requirements will facilitate identification of sprinkler and standpipe systems by Fire Department personnel during an emergency.

Introductory Number 999-A, requires site safety managers to check standpipe systems to ensure that they’re in a state of readiness and to document these inspections.  Checking that a standpipe system is ready at all times during construction will ensure that Fire Department personnel will have access to water when they are called to an emergency at a construction site.

Introductory Number 1000-A, relates to the cutting and capping of standpipe and sprinkler systems. The Building Code currently allows contractors to cut and cap standpipes or sprinklers during construction or demolition without requiring a permit.  Introductory Number 1000-A allows only a licensed master plumber or licensed master fire suppression piping contractor who has obtained a permit to cut and cap standpipes or sprinklers.  Working standpipe and sprinkler systems are critical to firefighter operations and the process of cutting and capping them should not go unreviewed. This bill ensures that only licensed individuals with the necessary expertise will perform this work. 

These legislative bills are designed to improve safety, enhance coordination, and increase oversight at construction, demolition, and asbestos abatement sites in New York City. These bills relate to two specific areas: enhancing safety at construction and demolition sites and strengthening standpipe and sprinkler safety.

The Fight to Organize 99 Tenth Avenue

Kramer and Barber

above: Local 94 Rep John Kramer and 99 Tenth Avenue Engineer Rashik Barber

by Local 94, IUOE

Local 94 brings a lot to the table: our members have substantial job security, good health and pension benefits, and are backed up by the best training programs in the City. But employers don’t always see it that way.

Take the case of 99 Tenth Avenue, a property on the corner of 17th Street and Tenth in Manhattan, almost touching the new High Line elevated park in the neighborhood of Chelsea. The building is home to government agencies, including the General Services Administration. At 99 Tenth, three men employed as stationary engineers and helpers approached Local 94 early in 2008 with the goal of joining the union. The building’s management, CB Richard Ellis, strongly objected.

CB Richard Ellis, or CBRE, is a Fortune 500 Real Estate firm with 30,000 employees worldwide. It brought its considerable legal and financial resources to block the unionization of 99 Tenth.

Conducting a union organizing drive is harder in the USA than in most other industrial democracies. Here, a majority of members in a shop who wish to join a union must indicate their preference and then petition the National Labor Relations Board for an election. The election is by secret ballot and is supposed to be free of employer interference, but that’s rarely the case. Employers fight most unionization drives with their traditional weapons of firings and intimidation, as well as anti-union propaganda.

At 99 Tenth, early in 2008, the three staff members who maintain the building’s HVAC systems signed union cards, and Local 94 Business Rep John Kramer presented the cards to management. CBRE objected, saying that Rashik Barber, the senior man, was in fact a supervisor and should be considered management, not staff. Kramer filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against CBRE in May of 2008, and our attorneys argued the case against CBRE’s counsel before the NLRB.

We won the case on July 15, and the NLRB ordered an election the following month, on August 1. That election brought Local 94 onto the property and should have ended the struggle. It did not. CBRE wrote up the men on bogus disciplinary charges, and they moved to reduce the pay of the senior man by $1 an hour. Kramer filed additional unfair labor practices seeking reversal of the actions.
In January of 2009, after dragging out negotiations, 99 Tenth finally told Local 94 that they would be represented by the Realty Advisory Board in negotiations. But the talks moved along slowly through the winter and early spring of this year, and CBRE laid off one of the helpers, saying he was not needed.

A settlement came in March, and the men were given their union pay rates as of April 1, 2009. Rashik Barber had his $1 per hour pay cut restored back to the same date. Local 94 found another job for the laid-off helper and obtained a lump sum payment for him as a settlement for the unjustified firing.
The fight to unionize 99 Tenth took a year and a half, and consumed considerable legal and financial resources on both sides. Says John Kramer: “They tortured us. They played the game. But they came around. They know they can’t do this any longer.”

Struggles to unionize shops will be much easier if Congress passes the Employee Free Choice Act, which is currently being debated on capitol hill and is the subject of fierce anti-union campaigns on behalf of many of America’s largest companies. They consider their legal expenses to ward off unions just part of the cost of doing business. In the process, they trample on the rights of workers to unionize and stop thousands from doing so.
EFCA would have allowed Local 94 to unionize 99 Tenth at the first step – right after a majority of employees signed union cards.
As it was, the fight took a lot of time and money and subjected the men, says Kramer, to needless anxiety, as they had to withstand intimidation and anti-union speeches from their bosses. “They were told that they’d be better off without a union, but they did not give in,” he says.

Union Busting Surge

Employers have been emboldened by the global economic and political climate to act more aggressively and more punitively against workers.

That’s the conclusion of “No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing,” a May study by Cornell University Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner.

The study finds that private sector employer opposition to workers’ efforts to form unions has intensified and become more punitive than in the past.

Employers are more than twice as likely to use 10 or more tactics — including threats of and actual firings, threats of and actual plant closings, harassment, disciplinary actions, surveillance, and alteration of benefits and working conditions — in their campaigns to thwart workers’ organizing efforts. At the same time, employers are less likely to offer “carrots,” such as unscheduled raises, positive personnel changes, bribes, special favors, social events, promises of improvement and employee involvement programs.

“It’s almost as if employers today have the attitude — we don’t care, we don’t have to care about the law, about public opinion,” Bronfenbrenner says. “We don’t do the carrots. We just do the stick.”

The report provides a comprehensive independent analysis of employer behavior in union representation elections supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), from 1999 to 2003. Bronfenbrenner finds:

  • 63 percent interrogate workers in one-on-one meetings with their supervisors about support for the union;
  • 54 percent threaten workers in such meetings;
  • 57 percent threaten to close the worksite;
  • 47 percent threaten to cut wages and benefits; and
  • 34 percent fire workers.
Even when workers succeed at forming a union, 52 percent are still without a contract a year after they win the election, and 37 percent remain without a contract two years after the election.

Scoping Out the Stimulus Dollars

By J. Mijin Cha
Director of Campaign Research, Urban Agenda

  The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has been called an historic down-payment on a clean energy economy and an important engine for the creation of green collar jobs.  But what will recovery funds pay for in New York City and what kinds of green jobs will be created?
  The Recovery Act creates several different channels for stimulating green economic development projects.  The spending portion of the Act commits dollars directly to a variety of Federal and State programs, allocates additional funds directly to municipalities and local governments based on existing formulas, and sets aside money to be disbursed by request and awarded via competitive grants.  The majority of funds will come down through existing channels.
  Because of the variety of channels, and because many program guidance notices and requests for proposals are still being released, the amount of money that New York City will ultimately receive from the stimulus is an open question.  However, the Mayor’s Office of Operations has estimated that New York City will receive $4-4.5 billion to cover existing expenses (Medicaid, unemployment insurance etc.) and $500 million in direct capital funding over the next two years.

Buildings Department Releases Findings from from Investigation into the Fatal Crane Collapse on East 51st Street

By Neal Tepel

Investigative Report Finds Improper Rigging Operations as Cause of Collapse

Following an extensive investigation by the New York City Buildings Department, it was concluded that improper rigging operations caused an 11,000-pound steel collar to fall March 15, 2008 while it was being connected to the building under construction. When the collar fell, it struck and severely damaged the crane’s lower connections to the building, which resulted in the collapse of the entire tower crane structure. The collapse killed six construction workers and one civilian, demolished a four-story brownstone on East 50th Street, and damaged more than a dozen buildings in the East Side neighborhood.

Based on this comprehensive review, the investigation concluded the collapse was caused by a number of critical errors, including: Four synthetic slings ere used instead of the required eight chain blocks specified by the anufacturer to support the 11,279-pound steel collar; One of the slings used to support the collar had prior physical damage; Slings were not attached at he collar points specified by the manufacturer; Slings were attached to the mast in a way that compromised their capacity; and Padding for the slings at the mast’s sharp edges was not provided.

DOB Inspectors and Engineers worked with Department of Investigation (DOI) and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on the investigation into the collapse, and in January, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau announced the indictment of the tower crane rigger and his company on multiple charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, assault, and reckless endangerment. DOB continues to work with the District Attorney and DOI to prosecute the case.

A copy of the 298-page report, titled “51st Street Crane Investigation Report,” is available at this link.

Mayor Bloomberg calls for federal crackdown on bogus OSHA classes

Monday, February 2nd 2009, 3:28 AM

Mayor Bloomberg called on the feds to crack down on bogus construction safety programs Sunday after a Daily News sting exposed trainers teaching crucial 10-hour courses in two hours.

An undercover reporter attended what was supposed to be a 10-hour federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration's training course above a Bronx bar, paying $125. The course lasted 2 hours and 17 minutes, during which some classmates sipped beers on breaks.

"It's very worrisome. We depend on OSHA to train the workers here so that you're safe when you walk by a construction site, so that the people who work on that site are safe," Bloomberg said. "I don't know if these stories are accurate, but if they are, OSHA should do something about it right away."

OSHA officials said they will look into the paper's findings.

"We're going to monitor this and see what's going on," said Earl Hicks of OSHA's Washington office.

Hicks confirmed OSHA has opened 10 investigations nationally of this growing problem, including two in New York that have already resulted in license suspensions.

Additional information