October 7, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Three years ago, Jeannette Harjo-Cobb – a Local 20 carpenter from Staten Island – was part of a highly-trained safety crew that helped avert disaster at One World Trade Center when a fellow construction worker fell, but was saved thanks to painstaking precautions taken prior to the accident. Today, however, Harjo-Cobb fears that construction workers employed to build the proposed $260 million Empire Outlets development on the North Shore of Richmond County, won’t be so fortunate. Watch Video
The veteran and mother of two is part of a more than 200,000 coalition of union workers and supporters known as Build Up NYC that is urging the New York City Council to think twice about green-lighting the one-million-square-foot project on Staten Island if the developer does not commit to building responsibly and providing good middle class jobs.
“I agree with bringing jobs in, but do it safely,” Harjo-Cobb said prior to this week’s Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee hearing at City Hall. “Don’t just throw in somebody from off the street that doesn’t know exactly what they’re doing, that doesn’t have the training, that doesn’t have the apprenticeship program that I had to attend.”
Brooklyn-based BFC Partners is set to start work on the multi-faceted development which includes up to 125 designer outlet shops, a 200-room hotel, 1,250-space parking garage, a food and beverage deck and expansive pedestrian corridors, in 2014. The overall project even includes construction of the world’s largest Ferris Wheel, and is expected to take just two years to complete.
The developer touts a $25 million Project Labor Agreement with the building trades and a commitment to local hiring and training. But Build Up NYC charges that BFC Partners has a demonstrated history of hiring irresponsible contractors who break the law while also undermining wages, benefits and training standards.
“I would rather work with people who go through years of schooling and on-the-job training,” said veteran tile, marble and terrazzo setter Alex Simpson. “I believe what this contractor is offering is ten weeks of training. And if you put people like that together, the safety aspect is going to be low. I feel more comfortable with people who have years of training and work experience behind them.”
Community Board 1 has already endorsed the redevelopment project, albeit with several provisos attached.
Paul Fernandes, chief of staff for the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, told the subcommittee that in order for the Empire Outlets project to provide real economic opportunity to Staten Island, “It must commit to jobs with good wages and benefits and the use of contractors with state approved training programs to give workers the skills they need to work safely and compete for long-term employment beyond this project.”
“So far, the developer has said maybe it will do some of this, but not all of it, and only on fifteen percent of the project,” Fernandes said.
Shirley Aldebol, 32BJ SEIU vice-president, railed against BFC Partners for allegedly shortchanging Staten Island residents with “dead end jobs.”
“Good jobs grow the economy, create stronger communities and support for local businesses,” Aldebol said. “Staten Island residents should have priority for the permanent jobs created on this project. BFC's refusal to commit to good jobs on this project for all of the construction, operations, maintenance and security workers takes one more step to increase income inequality in our city which is already at record levels.”
A large contingent supportive of BFC Partners and eager for a shot at some of the projected new jobs, also attended the subcommittee hearing under the banner of “Staten Island First.”
The City Council is expected to vote on the redevelopment project by the end of the month.