Friday, March 25, 2011

Getting ready for modular construction? NYC Building Trades Employers' Association asks unions to drop restrictions on off-site work

Modular construction, apparently, is one of the negotiating points between contractors and union workers.

Union radical Gregory Butler, on his Gangbox News blog, recently posted THE BUILDING TRADES EMPLOYERS ASSOCIATION'S 26 POINT ULTIMATUM TO THE NEW YORK BUILDING TRADES, from the Building Trades Employers' Association (BTEA), which represents "1,700 construction managers, general contractors and specialty subcontractor firms in New York City."

It included cuts in wages, no overtime for make-up work, a cut in overtime pay from double to time-and-a-half, and rule changes, but the key passages, at least regarding Forest City Ratner's plans for modular construction of towers at the Atlantic Yards site, are these:
6. No limitations on materials, supplies or equipment, regardless of their source or origin;

7. Elimination of prohibitions of or restrictions on work which is performed off-site on materials or products modified or fabricated for installation on the project;
The larger context

On March 19, in a front-page article headlined Trade Unions in City Confront a Rise in Nonunion Projects, the New York Times pointed to the BTEA's new Build Union Jobs web site (screenshot at right) and noted that "what may be their most tense contract negotiations in years" is imminent:
The employers have backed off an initial demand for wage cuts, but they are still aiming for a 25 percent cut in labor costs, by reducing benefits and changing some work rules. They say these changes would allow them to better compete with nonunionized companies, which are winning jobs from developers because their costs are 20 to 30 percent cheaper.
The Times article leaves the impression that some rules that clearly need changing--such as requiring three operating engineers in place when only one is needed--while others may be efforts to extract more profits.

The Times article mentions Atlantic Yards, but not the request for rule changes regarding off-site construction:
And this week, the developer of the Atlantic Yards megaproject in Brooklyn said it was seriously considering using a prefabricated method to build its residential high-rise. While most of the workers would be unionized, there would be fewer of them and they would earn less money because much of the labor would be done in a factory, where wage scales are lower than on the site.
The Northside Piers angle

The Times reportsd:
David Von Spreckelsen, vice president of Toll Brothers, said his company built the first of two towers at its Northside Piers project in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with union contractors. But as construction costs escalated in 2008, Toll Brothers turned to a nonunion contractor for the second tower, prompting unions to protest with five giant inflatable rats. The company now has three apartment buildings under construction in Manhattan with nonunion labor.
That may not be the best example. As Williamsburg activist Phil DePaolo recently wrote in Williamsburg Greenpoint News+Arts, Luxury Living is Taking a Toll, Brother!, non-union workers were brought in on the first tower, as well:
So, it came as no surprise to me to learn that major problems now exist at Northside Piers...

Some units have had water infiltration which has resulted in the untenable condition of mold growth. In addition, many owners complained that the full-view windows that were installed, do little to keep wind and water out of their units which increases use of heat in the winter, and air conditioning in the summer, both of which run on electricity. This certainly makes our friends at Con Edison very happy, as I was shown the electricity bills for many residents averaging over $400 dollars a month.
This drew a follow-up in the New York Post, headlined Williamsburg waterfront condo residents complain of 'shoddy' construction.


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