A union-led lawsuit seeking to halt the massive City Point project in Downtown Brooklyn is threatening divisions between local lawmakers siding with the unions and black-owned contractors saying a stoppage will cost local jobs and slow cash flow in the community to a trickle.
The project, on the former Albee Square Mall site on Fulton Street, is an open shop, meaning it utilizes both union and nonunion labor. The suit, which City Councilwoman Letitia James and Assemblyman Walter Mosley also signed onto, alleges the City Point developers pay poverty-level wages to nonunion workers and wants the project stopped until a new study is completed on how these wages impact the local economy.
But several local contractors say the suit is really about the unions bringing in workers from outside the community while refusing to address the needs and high unemployment rate in the surrounding community.
“I support unions, but I also support local and minority employment,” said Ed Brown, the former Ingersoll Houses Tenants Association President and whose Team Brown Consulting firm has landed several people from the Ingersoll Houses construction and security jobs on the City Point project. “The trade unions are not opening their ranks for local people. I don’t see that happening. The history of local construction unions has to be put to the forefront in reference to giving jobs in the local community and people of color being left out.”
Brown said he is not privy to everyone’s wages, but noted security workers receive above-the-union wages for such work and nonunion laborers and construction workers still receive hefty hourly rates.
“We have unemployed individuals, some of them formerly incarcerated, with rent to pay, families to feed and child support issues. If someone is working labor for $20 or $25 an hour, it sure beats a blank. I don’t see how that can be contested,” he said.
Mosley said he is working closely with the ironworkers union to address the issue of more minority opportunities within their ranks. He also expressed doubt that local nonunion workers actually come from the community.
“I have asked the developer for a breakdown of workers on the project that supposedly ‘live’ in the community,” he said in an e-mail. “To date, I have never met or heard of a single person from the 57th Assembly District who works on the site.”
But Martin (Ab) Allen, whose company, PPEE Construction, 790 MacDonough Street in Bed-Stuy, is located in Assemblyman William Boyland’s district, said he currently has 38 people working on City Point from NYCHA’s Farragut, Wyckoff and Gowanus Houses as well as residents from Brownsville, Fort Greene, Bed-Stuy and Bushwick.
“If this project was a full union shop none of these people would be working there,” said Allen, who stated he himself is a union member.
Allen explained that up-front union dues make it nearly impossible for many from the local community to get in the union, and those that do get in the union have to go through a union hall where they are put on long waiting lists before they are placed on a job-site.
“If they (City Point) go full union then none of the local people will get jobs. When you become a union shop they force contractors to have six union workers before you can bring on some of yours from the community,” he said.
Allen said he knows of several small and local contractors who have been able to get some subcontracting work on City Point including plumbing, sprinkler, concrete and scaffolding contracts.
“A small company can’t compete with these big union companies like in cement. They (unions) want politicians to support them, but people are starving out here,” he said.
The suit comes as the consortium of several developers of City Point is moving ahead with the second phase of the three-phase project which will include 680,000 square feet of retail space and 680 units of housing including 125 units of affordable housing for moderate-and low-income residents.
The already-completed first phase of the project includes the recent opening of Armani Exchange on the Fulton Mall, and the retail end will ultimately include anchors such as New York City-based retailer Century 21 and the seven-screen Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas.
A spokesperson for the developer Albee Square, LLC refused comment on an ongoing litigation. The city is also named in the suit because the project is being done on city-owned land.
A spokesperson from the city’s Law Department said the court filings are being reviewed.