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This Week in Labor: New York Building Trades Workers Protest 20% Pay Cut

Lindsay Beyerstein

Rank-and-file building trades workers picket the Building Trades Employers' Association's leadership dinner on Tuesday May 24, in New York City.

At the end of each week, Working In These Times rounds up labor newswe’ve missed during the past week, with a focus on new and ongoing campaigns and protests. For all our other headlines from this week, go here.

—Approximately 30 construction contracts covering 60,000 New York City carpenters, sheetmetal workers, painters, and other laborers will expire next month. The city’s developers are demanding a 20 percent pay and benefit cut and work-rule changes, ostensibly to kickstart a slow industry.

Several hundred rank-and-file building trades workers rallied Tuesday outside the posh Wall Street restaurant where the Building Trades Employers’ Association (BTEA), the major interest group for developers in the city, was holding its annual leadership dinner. In These Times was at the rally and took these pictures, including the one above.

One woman carried a sign that read, Building Trades Association Employers’ Roadmap to Poverty” — a dig at BTAE President Louis J. Coletti’s Roadmap to Recovery,” a list of 26 concessions his group wants from New York’s unionized building trades workers. 

Coletti sent the roadmap to Gary LaBarbera, the head of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, an alliance of the local affiliates of over a dozen national and international unions in the construction business, representing over 100,000 workers. The BCTC negotiates project labor agreements with the city and the developers. 

But workers say they’ve already sacrificed for the good of the industry through the project labor agreements. They draw the line at making those cuts permanent in their new contracts.

The industry is pleading poverty, but according to the city’s Buildings Department, the construction sector is already showing signs of a rebound.

The department issued 15,000 permits for small construction jobs in the first quarter of this year, which surpasses the previous record of 14,000 permits in a single quarter during the construction boom of 2005. Shuttered construction projects are starting to reopen, according to DOB figures: 520 jobs have resumed and 140 have been completed.

—The United Food and Commercial Workers unions alleges that the retail giant Target broke the law in an attempt to thwart an organizing drive at a Long Island store. UFCW Local 1500’s complaint to the NLRB alleges that Target interrogated workers about union activities, warned them that their organizing was under surveillance, and implicitly threatened to close the store if the workers vote to unionize on June 17. If the unionization drive succeeds the store will become the first union Target in the country. [Crain’s Business Review, no link available.]

—Smackdown! An audit of the World Wrestling Entertainment found that the Connecticut company owes about $7,000 in underpaid workers compenstion. The company disputes the audit, but has agreed to pay up anyway. Given the small sums involved, compared against the costs of contesting your unilateral findings, WWE has determined it is most cost effective to simply pay the $7,316.64 assessment under protest,’” a WWE lawyer wrote in a letter obtained by the Associated Press. Now that’s cold! Colder than the time Stone Cold Steve Austin snuck into that ambulance so he could keep beating his injured opponent Bret Hit Man” Hart.

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Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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