July 6, 2016 By Christian Murray
The developers of the two residential towers that are going up on the former 5 Pointz site are being criticized by union leaders for allegedly going back on their word that union contractors would be hired to build the entire 1,000-apartment unit project.
Developers Jerry and David Wolkoff agreed to use 100 percent union labor as one of the conditions of receiving a special zoning permit in order to build the 41-story and 47-story towers, which allowed them to build an additional 400 units than what is allowed as of right, according to union leaders as well as statements released by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer in October 2013.
The union labor agreement came alongside several other conditions, the most well publicized of which was a deal struck with developers to make 210 of the apartments affordable housing, Van Bramer announced at the time.
“G & M Realty [owned by the Wolkoffs] has agreed to build and staff the buildings with 100 percent union workers,” Van Bramer said in a statement prior to the City Council’s vote to approve the zoning permit. He also told the Council during hearings that the Wolkoffs would use 100 percent union labor.
Now, union leaders claim that Jerry Wolkoff has reneged and has hired non-union contractors.
Jerry Wolkoff said that he didn’t renege but did say he is hiring non-union workers.
“I have some union people on my job and some non union people on my job,” Jerry Wolkoff said Friday, arguing that there was no agreement. He also said that it doesn’t make sense for him to pay a contractor millions more just because it is union.
“I have to make it [the project] affordable so the firemen, school teachers and municipal workers can move in,” he said.
He also said the unions should not get involved in discussions dealing with variances.
“In this day and age they shouldn’t have the power to say whether a developer is given [the variance],” Jerry Wolkoff said, and nor should “the municipality and bureaucrats say don’t give it to him because it is not union.”
In the past month, two large inflatable rats have become fixtures outside the 22-44 Jackson Ave. building site, which were placed there by representatives of the Council of Carpenters.
Gary LaBarbera, the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, said that there was an agreement after Van Bramer organized a meeting between the two of them prior to the October 2013 approval.
LaBarbera said that while nothing was signed, Jerry Wolkoff gave him his word that it would be all union, just like he had to Van Bramer.
“His word means nothing,” LaBarbera said.
While Van Bramer and LaBarbera’s interpretation of October 2013 events are clear, the developers’ appears less so.
During Council testimony a week prior to the vote on the permit, David Wolkoff spoke at a Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises hearing and said that the company had an intention to use union labor but did not characterize it as a commitment or promise.
“We intend to engage contractors which employ local individuals represented by labor unions that are affiliated with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York,” he said at the time. (David Wolkoff Hearing Transcript – Zoning 10-2-13)
LaBarbera claims that the Wolkoffs have breached an agreement and wants Van Bramer to do anything within the law to make it right.
He said he has legal counsel looking into whether to file a lawsuit.
Meanwhile, Michael Donnelly, a council representative with the Council of Carpenters, said: “Jimmy Van Bramer should take away his variance; he lied.”
Van Bramer was not available for an interview. However, in a statement, he said:
“I’ve been made aware of issues at this site which concern me. I’ve been asked to help to try to bring all sides together in an attempt to address these issues. This is something I’m actively working on.”