Union group, Related dispute heats up over Hudson Yards project

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Protesters outside the Hudson Yards project in New York (Image from the BCTCNY Twitter feed)

The leader of New York City’s city’s 100,000-member unionized construction industry says the developer of the $20 billion Hudson Yards, the city’s biggest private construction project, is falling behind schedule on a part of the mega-development it is building with some non-union labor, Crain’s New York Business reports.

Developer Related Cos. disputes the assertion.

Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTCNY), sags Related is experiencing delays on the first part of the project, the $40 billion 50 Hudson Yards on 10th Avenue between West 33rd and West 34th streets.

“They can argue everything is going great, but we know it’s not going great,” LaBarbera was quoted as saying. “They have had some concrete blowouts where they had to replace walls because they imploded or cracked. That foundation should have been done in six or seven months, and they’re not even close.”

However, Related said in a statement that 90 percent of the foundation at 50 Hudson Yards is complete, that below-grade portions are actually ahead of schedule and that all work has passed muster with contractors and third-party inspectors. Overall, 50 Hudson Yards remains on schedule for a 2022 delivery, the developer said.

“These latest ‘fake news’ assertions are not only patently false but desperate and sad,” a Related spokeswoman said in a statement. “No amount of malicious name-calling or defamatory statements will change the fact that Gary LaBarbera and the BCTC have failed to live up to their commitments.”

Crain’s reports that LaBarbera has taken the position that his member unions should not participate in the development’s second half if it involves non-union construction workers. Conversely, Related filed a $100 million lawsuit against LaBarbera personally as well as the BCTC earlier this year to allow non-union labor to work on the project.

In its claim, Related says the unions did not deliver the cost savings they promised on the development’s $4 billion first phase, so it wants to use union workers for some jobs such as operating high-rise crane equipment. The developer also wants to employ less costly non-union workers for simpler tasks.

Crain’s reports:

That “open shop” or “merit shop” model has become common in private development across the city, particularly residential construction jobs. But with billions of dollars in wages on the line, LaBarbera has resisted it at Hudson Yards in an effort to preserve union labor’s bargaining power at the site.

“Open shop is an erosion for us,” Crain’s quoted LaBarbera as saying. “At first Related says that 90 percent of a building’s construction staff will be union, then it will be 70 percent, then 50 percent. What’s the big deal? That’s the big deal.”

During the summer, the Carpenters Union negotiated a separate agreement with Related for work on 50 Hudson Yards, but LaBarbera says the remaining unions will not follow.

The Crain’s article continued:

“The trades are very much united,” he said. “All of the union leadership recognizes what this has become, and everyone is invested in the right outcome.”

LaBarbera said it was difficult to imagine a reconciliation. After the suit against LaBarbera was filed, union labor hit back by protesting Related Chairman Steve Ross’ involvement in an NFL social justice committee. Ross owns the Miami Dolphins.

The battle has been closely watched in the construction industry and has been described as one of the most bitter rifts between organized labor and a developer in recent memory.

“Targeting me personally was absolutely outside the normal parameters of a labor dispute,” LaBarbera said. “They have made this personal.

“Related hasn’t come to the conclusion they’re in a place where a settlement is appropriate, and until that time there won’t be a settlement. All I can say is that absent a settlement, our campaign will only grow.”

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