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While some New Yorkers still follow the jingle’s advice and “look for the union label,” you won’t find one affixed to Brooklyn’s construction boom.

Last year in Brooklyn, the Department of Buildings awarded more construction permits than it had in any year since the 1973. The vast majority of these projects are being built by non-union laborers.

“We’re being hammered,” said Anthony Pugliese, organizer of New York District Council of Carpenters.

During Brooklyn’s last construction boom in the late 1960s, construction union membership was around 40 percent nationwide. Now, it’s 13 percent.

Locally, the result is that only 50 or 60 of the 4,000 residential construction projects green-lighted last year were built by union hands, according to the carpenters union.

Union organizers see this as a historic crossroads in the labor movement: After all, the next 10 years will bring more construction jobs to the city than any period since World War II, according to deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff.

Yet the trend is clearly moving away from union labor, leaving organizers little to do but pump up their giant rats and walk around with picket signs, as they did this week at locations in DUMBO and the South Slope.

“It’s just plain wrong that they are building these huge, 100-unit buildings without unions,” groused Joe Rizzo, a Laborers’ International Union organizer who spent this week protesting the construction at 84 Front St.

The building’s developer, Shaya Boymelgreen, was persuaded to go union at one of his building sites in Manhattan. But at his luxury residential developments in DUMBO and on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, he did not feel similarly compelled.

Part of the reason, experts said, is because Manhattan’s labor locals are more powerful politically, and the projects themselves have traditionally been larger.

Yet even as Manhattan-sized buildings are increasingly being built in Brooklyn, union power is waning in the borough.

Hiring union laborers does considerably ramp up the cost of a construction project, but there is still a huge political benefit to using union muscle, union leaders say.

Pugliese estimates that his union will get 10,000 jobs at Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards megadevelopment — which won Ratner union support.

“The construction industry has sway over elected officials and its support [of the project] has a major impact,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Prospect Heights), who opposes the Atlantic Yards project.

Yet Ratner remains the exception to Brooklyn’s growing addiction to non-union construction. As a result, Brooklyn has become the hot-sheets motel for an odd case of strange bedfellows: union construction workers are now teaming up with opponents of over-development to halt or harass non-union projects.

James, for example, has been spotted recently walking the picket lines below the inflatable gray rat, and teaming up with the very unions she battled over Atlantic Yards.

“We talk about overdevelopment and some of them really understand,” said James. “They don’t want it where they live either.”

James’s point was on display this week in the South Slope, where the non-union construction of some 30 new residential projects has incited protest from neighbors — whether they draw union or non-union paychecks.

Crude messages slamming developer Isaac Katan — such as “Katan is Satan” — were spotted on vans parked next to a 12-story condo at 162 16th St., which is being built by non-union workers.

Protest organizer Bo Samajopoulos has two, seemingly conflicted, gripes: He doesn’t want the too-tall condo in his neighborhood — but if it must go up, he wants his workers on the job.

Union workers.

“[The builder] is exploiting workers with no insurance and little or no training,” Samajopoulos said, actually using the term “overdevelo­pment” to describe the building — a surprising word choice for a union builder.

“I kept out of the fight at first,” he said. “Unions usually want big work, but who wants to live next to a monstrosity, especially if it’s a monstrosity built by men and women making $10 an hour?”

Pugliese considers non-union labor to be a public safety issue. In the past year, two day-laborers were killed on job sites in Brooklyn, including one who was fatally crushed by an 800-pound beam as he laid the foundation of a condo building on 20th Street in the South Slope.

And this week, a worker was carried off by co-workers and placed into a car-service taxi at the 16th Street site. Witnesses believe he was shaken up in a construction accident, but the foreman on the job denied it, telling The Brooklyn Papers to “have a nice day.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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Reasonable discourse

JOE HILL from BRONX says:



June 24, 2009, 6:32 pm
oto from northside/brooklyn says:
Non-union invassion.
Oct. 15, 2009, 7:42 am

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