October 25, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
Staten Island, NY – With only a handful of days left before the City Council votes on a $550 million plan to construct the world’s largest Ferris wheel, a 200-room hotel and a designer outlet mall on the languishing north shore of the borough, organized labor is striking back at the developer’s claims that unions are attempting to divide the community. Watch Video
“Don’t tell me we’re not working with the community,” Build Up NYC President Gary LaBarbera told hundreds of yellow-shirted union workers gathered on the steps of Borough Hall earlier this week. “Don’t tell me we’re trying to push the community out – it’s just the opposite.”
The ambitious St. George Redevelopment Project is expected to create between 800 to 1,000 permanent jobs on Staten Island, while drawing an estimated four million tourists annually to Richmond County’s shores. But while the construction of the massive Ferris wheel is committed to using 100-hundred percent union labor – guaranteeing workers good jobs, wages, benefits – the rest of the project is not.
LaBarbera struck back at BFC Partners Principal Don Capoccia – the developer behind the St. George Redevelopment Project – and said that organized labor is not only guaranteeing that 100 percent of the workers tapped for the project would be Staten Island residents, but that many more newcomers would be welcomed into union ranks through initiatives like Non-Tradition Employment For Women, Helmets to Hardhats and High School Construction Skills Program.
“In all the meetings that we’ve had – and most recently a week-and-a-half-ago right here [at Staten Island Borough Hall] – we talked about job creation,” LaBarbera continued. “And at that meeting, along with me representing the building trades, was Hector Figueroa, the president of 32BJ and Peter Ward, president of the New York Hotel Trades Council. They told the borough president and Council Member [Deborah Rose] and Don Capoccia, that if he would enter into an agreement with us on this project – that they would ensure that every one of those thousand jobs will be residents of Staten Island.”
State Senator Diane Savino said that she was initially “thrilled” to learn that 100 percent union labor would be responsbile for constructing the world's larges Ferris wheel on Staten Island.
“We thought we had the full package,” State Senator Savino said. "But BFC only wants to do part of the job union – with public money by the way. So, they’re really not giving us anything. The part that they control, they’re not interested in a union work force.”
The State Senator representing the 23rd district charged BFC Partners – who helped assemble a nearby concurrent counter-demonstration – with actually being the ones attempting to divide the community on Staten Island.
"They’ll tell you that you’re standing in the way of their economic opportunity,” State Senator Savino said. “We say no to that. You see, we want those guys in the [pro-BFC Partners] red shirts to have yellow shirts. We want them to know what you know. We want them to have the training you have. We want them to have the union card that you have.”
Jeannette Harjo-Cobb, a Local 20 carpenter from Staten Island who previously worked at One World Trade Center, echoed Savino’s sentiments.
“I want more jobs for all communities,” Harjo-Cobb said. “Bring all the communities together to work, to get what we have – good paying jobs, benefits and retirement.”
Edward Josey, head of the NAACP on Staten Island, criticized the suspect training BFC is reportedly offering non-union laborers, and blamed greed for the developer’s resistance to hiring highly-skilled, qualified union workers for the entire St. George Redevelopment Project.
“They’re talking about if [the St. George Redevelopment Project] goes union – they cannot make money,” Josey said. “They can make lots of money. But maybe just not as much as they’d like to make. This job should be such that everybody makes money – not just the business people.”