Unions rally against Downtown’s City Point development

Unions rally against Downtown’s City Point development
Community Newspaper Group / Natalie Musumeci

Hundreds of union workers rallied at the under-construction City Point development in Downtown on Tuesday and accused developer Acadia Realty Trust of short-changing the non-union laborers building the massive housing and retail complex — which received a $20-million federal bailout in 2009.

A coalition of unions including sheet metal workers and carpenters argued they should have been tapped for the job and claimed project officials had no excuse for not paying higher wages to the non-union construction crew employed at the Dekalb Avenue site because the development received the tax-exempt stimulus funds.

Rally-goers — including politicians and members of the Brooklyn-based community group Families United for Racial and Economic Equality — chanted, blew whistles, and carried signs that read: “Acadia got bailed out; Brooklyn got sold out!”

“The only reason they’re not using union workers is because they don’t want to pay a fair wage,” said Terry Moore, the business manager of the Metallic Lathers and Reinforcing Ironworkers for Local 46.

A City Point spokesman would not disclose the wages of the 180 workers who built the first part of the project — a four-story retail structure that currently includes an Armani Exchange shop and is slated to host a Century 21 department store — but did say that more than 80 percent of the employees were minorities or Brooklyn residents.

Union members claim City Point workers received as little as $18 per hour with no benefits. The standard wage for a union carpenter is $46.15 per hour, plus $38.88 in benefits, according to the “prevailing wage” set by the comptroller.

City Point spokesman Tom Montvel-Cohen claims union protesters are wrong when they say the federal stimulus money is a taxpayer handout — it’s actually a bond that the developers will pay back in full, with interest.

“They have been saying this all along and it is not so,” said Montvel-Cohen, whose project could wind up being the tallest building in the borough.

“It’s borrowed money … it is still a loan.”

And he claims the only city subsidy going toward the project will be used to create 120 units of below market-rate housing in the development’s second phase, which is slated to begin soon.

Union officials offered a contrary perspective.

“We have to raise the issue with the city of New York and say why our tax dollars are being given to a developer who’s building without us — that’s wrong!” shouted Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.

A handful of city officials who spoke at the protest backed the union laborers.

“If you’re going to go through a public process, if you’re going to come before the city or the state and ask for a rezoning, if you’re going to accept tax-breaks, subsidies, or any kind of public benefit, then there is no question at all that your jobs are union, the project includes affordable housing, and the process is democratic with the communities involved — end of story,” said Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope), eliciting cheers from the demonstrators.

The unions have taken their campaign against Acadia Realty Trust online, starting a Change.org petition calling for “decent wages” that has received 230 signatures as of press time.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.