Aug. 23, 2016 By Hannah Wulkan
Several hundred construction workers and members of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York protested outside of the 5Pointz development site in Long Island City today, saying the developer reneged on a promise to use all union labor for the project.
The 5Pointz development, located at 22-44 Jackson Ave, has faced several controversies since its inception, most recently when developers Jerry and David Wolkoff went back on a promise they made when seeking approval from the City Council for the 1,000-unit development.
While negotiating with the City Council, Wolkoff allegedly agreed to use all union labor, along with several other conditions, to receive a special zoning permit in order to build the 41-story and 47-story towers and build 400 more units than was permitted under code, including 210 affordable housing units. However in practice, union workers are saying, Wolkoff did not stick to that promise.
“I come from the school that when you give your word, that’s better than a signed contract. This man was in my office, shook my hand and said I give you my word this will be a union contract. Where are you now, Jerry?” shouted Gary LaBarbera, President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.
LaBarbera read from a letter that Wolkoff allegedly sent to Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer during negotiations on the project.
“Based on your guidance we are pleased to announce that it is our intention to engage contractors which employ individuals represented by labor unions that are affiliated with the Building and Construction Trade Council of Greater New York for construction,” the letter read. “There will be 800 good paying construction jobs, and approximately 200 full time jobs once completed.”
“He signed this letter so not only does his word mean nothing, his signature means nothing,” LaBarbera said.
Van Bramer affirmed LaBarbera’s claims, saying, “Jerry Wolkoff came to me and wanted to build a building here, and I said to him, I will not permit you to build the building you want to build, unless you build one hundred percent union… Only because he did that did we approve this project. So Jerry Wolkoff lied to me, Jerry Wolkoff lied to Gary, Jerry Wolkoff lied to every single New Yorker.”
Wolkoff, however, denies that he ever made that promise. “I never lied. My intention, it still is and was to use all union labor to the best I can, as long as they come in at the right price,” he said.
He explained that while he would like to use union laborers as much as he can, a union contractor can cost up to $20 million more than a non-union contractor. “I have to bring this in at a price to make it so people can afford to live here,” he said.
Wolkoff said that he is using some union labor and some non-union labor on the project, though he would not give exact numbers. “I’m putting people to work who deserve to work, they have the right to work and they’re good workers, even if they don’t have the union seal, they’re not inferior workers, they’re good workers,” he said.
He also made it clear that the protest today would in no way affect the way he hires workers and conducts business moving forward.
This did not sit well with union representatives.
“Right now today, we’re at the ground zero of greed,” said Daniel Walcott from the District Council of Carpenters. “[Wolkoff’s] going to be looking for some big financing on this job, and I want his financiers to look at what he did with our agreement and see where he’s going to go with that and maybe he won’t get that financing.”
“Organized labor is going to take care of organized greed and we’re going to win,” he added.
“Jerry Wolkoff should be brought up on perjury. He lied to elected city officials,” said Patrick Dolan Jr., president of Steamfitters Local 638.
Despite union leaders calling for charges to be brought up against Wolkoff, it is unlikely that those desires will come to fruition, as the promise to use union labor was never in any legal contract.
“We were lied to, we were lied to every single step of the way, and this man cannot be allowed to get away with doing this because it is dangerous, it is wrong, and he is profiting off the backs of New Yorkers and that is not something that we will ever allow him to do again,” Van Bramer declared.
The rally was punctuated throughout with Bruce Springsteen songs and chants of “Who’s a liar” with the response “Jerry,” between every speaker.
Surrounding the work site were large inflatable rats and an inflatable pig wearing a pinstriped suit, as well as many workers holding signs with sayings such as “How much is the 5Pointz job costing the city?”
This controversy is just one of many involving the 5Pointz development.
The site used to be an outdoor art exhibit space, known for its extensive graffiti, and many fought hard against its demolition when the project was first announced, viewing the development as a symbol of gentrification in the area.