Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Renewed union contracts did not address modular construction, but that's not seen as blocking modular towers at the Atlantic Yards site

So, will builders and labor unions embrace modular construction in New York City? Not yet, but that won't necessarily stop modular construction at the Atlantic Yards site.

In March, I wrote how union radical Gregory Butler, on his Gangbox News blog, posted THE BUILDING TRADES EMPLOYERS ASSOCIATION'S 26 POINT ULTIMATUM TO THE NEW YORK BUILDING TRADES, from the Building Trades Employers' Association (BTEA), which included various wage cuts and rule changes, as well as:
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;
After the contract

Now that expiring contracts have been renewed, Butler assesses the result as "Unshared Sacrifice" and explains that the modular issue was not incorporated:
There was also no movement on the prefabrication demand.

Developer Bruce Ratner, the builder of the Atlantic Yards luxury housing complex and the Barclay Center basketball arena, wanted the right to build his apartment houses with factory built modular components, rather than building them from the ground up.

This was quite plainly a money issue – the difference between paying construction carpenters $ 46 an hour to put up walls in the field rather than paying $ 28 an hour to shop carpenters to build modular sections in the shop that would be bolted together on site.

There was no movement on that demand and that proposal remains on the drawing board.

So why did the GCs [General Contractors] and the billionaire real estate developers back down on these demands?

...The bottom line was, this was a war that the specialty subcontractors did not want this fight.
The Atlantic Yards exception

I asked Butler if that meant no modular at Atlantic Yards--which would include subsidized units and luxury units--and he said no.

"As far as there being a broader move, that didn't happen," Butler said. "But if he pushes it, it's almost certain to happen. They've never stopped people from doing prefab."

One key to moving forward, Butler said, is if Forest City Ratner gets the right building permits from the Department of Buildings. (It's untested technology at 35 stories, for one thing.)

Though unions have expressed dismay at the potential loss of jobs, Butler noted that "there's a management rights clause in every union contract; I doubt seriously anyone's going to try to stop it."

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