By: Bendix Anderson
More than a thousand union leaders, celebrities, politicians, and press gathered Thursday, March 11, to break ground at Atlantic Yards, a 6.5-million-square-foot development now under construction in downtown Brooklyn.
One after another, the dignitaries took the stage inside a canvas tent on the development site to praise the project. Embattled New York Gov. David Patterson promised “job creation the likes of which Brooklyn has never seen!”
Close to a decade after it was first announced, the first phase of Atlantic Yards, including an arena and five high-rise buildings, finally seems to be underway, now that developer Forest City Ratner Companies has beaten 34 lawsuits from local groups who challenged Ratner’s right to build on the 22-acre site.
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
For union activists, the project comes down to jobs for its members. Atlantic Yards will continuously employ well over a thousand building trades workers for a period of construction that will last 10 to 15 years. At its peak, the project may employ 2,500 construction workers at once, says Brian Wangerman, business agent for Steamfitter Local 638 of the United Association AFL-CIO.
Construction workers certainly need the jobs. The unemployment rate among union building trades workers is now about 40 percent, says Wangerman. That’s up from an unemployment rate near zero just two years ago.
Atlantic Yards will also create several thousand permanent jobs at its arena, which will be only slightly smaller than Madison Square Gardens, along with its 16 planned residential and office towers — the exact number of permanent jobs will largely depend on the amount of the amount of office space that gets built. Estimates range from more than 4,000, according to the Empire State Development Corp, to up to 8,000 permanent jobs, according to the developer’s press release. Forest City Ratner also signed a Community Benefits Agreement promising that 30 percent of contracts and 45 percent of all construction jobs at Atlantic Yards will be held by women or minorities.
“This will not only benefit the unions, it will benefit the community,” says Sal Zarzana, president of Local Union 926 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.The Carpenters Union is already hiring people who live close to Atlantic Yards site to work at Forest City Ratner projects. For example, seven of the 90 carpenters working to build Ratner’s Beekman Place project in Lower Manhattan live within ten blocks of the Atlantic Yards site, according to George Monje, treasurer for Local 926. That bodes well for the prospect that neighborhood residents will actually find job building Ratner’s Atlantic Yards.
“A lot of our members live in this neighborhood,” says Anthony Williamson, an auditor for Local 79 of the Construction and General Building Laborers.
Union Action It took a lot of support from union activists to move Atlantic Yards forward. “We put a lot of dedication into this,” says Monje, of the Carpenters. He himself attended hundreds of demonstrations over five years. That includes at least seven town hall meetings where project supporters and opponents faced off, including one marathon session at Brooklyn’s Metrotech Center that ran from noon to one in the morning. The main issue up for discussion that day was the use of eminent domain law to seize property need to build Atlantic Yards.