At Hudson Yards, Tensions Flare Between Related, Unions

Daniel Vazquez protests Related’s decision to include nonunion workers in the development of Hudson Yards. | Photo by Michael Rock

BY MICHAEL ROCK | As development at Hudson Yards continues, sparring between The Related Companies, which oversees the neighborhood’s development, and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC), the umbrella organization for the construction unions Related has hired for the project, is poised to go the distance.

A major issue of contention for BCTC union members tasked with working on the project is Related’s decision to hire nonunion members for the unskilled responsibilities of the construction. “Nonunion work is done very shabby. They didn’t go to school like union workers to learn the trade,” said Daniel Vazquez, who has been a member of UFL Local 46 since 1986. “A lot of their work has been collapsing, and more accidents than ever are being caused by nonunion workers. They’re a danger for themselves and the livelihood of anyone invested in the project.”

A spokesperson for BCTC president Gary LaBarbera agreed. “The next part of the project is both massive and extremely complicated,” he said. “This enormous undertaking will require the knowledge and precision of a well-trained and highly skilled workforce, which means union labor. The continued use of nonunion contractors expose employees to abuse and exploitation.”

Vazquez, along with his colleague James Burney, also of UFL Local 46, made it clear that the unions have nothing against the unskilled workers, advocating for them to get certification at their learning center in Woodside, Queens. “We have safety training, scaffolding, fire watch, rigging, etc. Everything’s through a three-year apprenticeship,” Burney said.

Joanna Rose, a spokesperson for Related, dismissed the allegations that their hiring practices posed such hazards. “We stand committed to working with honest trade contractors who provide good wages, benefits package, and a commitment to complying with safety rules and regulations,” she said. Rose proceeded to suggest that the workers themselves were not truly invested in the safety of the project, citing a July 1 New York Post article accusing dozens of them of consuming alcohol during their lunch breaks.

Rose also asserted that the BCTC violated the terms of a project labor agreement (PLA) it had signed with Related during the first phase of the project. Some of the infractions in a statement included “continued violations of safety rules, no-show jobs, and protests and picketing at which union leaders disseminate false and defamatory information.”

Due to the unions’ violations of the agreement, Related refused to sign a second PLA with the BCTC. “We would rather negotiate with the individual unions so they are the ones that are held accountable, and we have a direct relationship with them,” Rose told this City Media. “Why would we sign onto a broken procedure that has failed us in the past?”

Some of the construction at Hudson Yards has paused as the construction unions strike. | Photo by Michael Rock

A press release supplied by Rose indicated that the National Labor Relations Board had sided with Related against BCTC unions over the issue of illegally executed strikes that were at odds with their collective bargaining agreement as well as the National Labor Relations Act, suggesting merit to her claims. 

Still, Rose assured this publication that Related is sympathetic to organized labor. “We created over 20,000 union construction jobs all working onsite at Hudson Yards,” she said. “We’re probably the largest union employer in the City of New York. 

LaBarbera’s spokesperson disputed Rose’s claim, offering a completely different perspective on the matter. “In 2016, while the trades were working on his development, [Related chair] Steve Ross publicly stated at a joint labor management Crain’s forum that he believed that nonunion development was a good thing for NYC and that there should be more non-union development. It became increasingly clear in the next few months that Ross would not entertain a PLA for its additional work in Hudson Yards and that Related intended to work the rest of the development on an ‘open shop’ basis,” he insisted. “In fact, Related hired nonunion contractors to work on 50 Hudson Yards and those non-union contractors created a hostile work environment for many construction workers for well over a year.”

Vazquez shared the opinion that Related’s efforts to include unskilled non-union workers in the construction of the project was problematic. “They want to expand and take over. The unions built the New York City skyline,” he highlighted. “We gave them a hand. They’re trying to take a foot. It’s un-American.”

Regardless, the BCTC has a powerful ally in City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, whose district includes the neighborhood.

“The speaker is a staunch supporter of organized labor, and has a long standing relationship with the Building and Construction Trades Council of New York,” said Jennifer Fermino, his communications director. “The speaker will do everything in his power to stand with these union workers and urge Related to come to an agreement with the unions to put its women and men to work at the site.”

James Burney of the Local #46 union displays the grievances he and his colleagues have with Related. | Photo by Michael Rock

Construction projects underway at Hudson Yards include Vessel. | Photo by Michael Rock

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