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A group of New York City construction unions have forged a coalition with affordable housing activists to ratchet up pressure on Mayor Bill de Blasio to require organized labor in the building of 80,000 lower-cost apartment units over the next decade.
The unions say they will begin supporting a call for 50% of the new units to be set aside for lower- and middle-income residents, a key tenet of the housing advocates' agenda and a departure from past practice in the city.
Unions are also willing to make an unusual concession, accepting wages that are 40% lower than normal union pay on affordable-housing projects in certain neighborhoods in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and upper Manhattan for a new class of workers with less experience than existing members, many of them drawn from local communities.
The coalition would bring together two powerful interest groups who have traditionally been at odds. Much affordable housing has traditionally been built without union labor because developers, advocates and policy makers say that higher wages means fewer units.
The alliance shifts the political landscape for Mr. de Blasio in a challenging way, as he tries to fulfill his campaign promise of fostering new affordable housing construction while also maintaining positive relationships with real-estate firms that are wary of the 50% requirement.
"The affordable housing community and the trades have not come together in any major way. That's why we sought out this opportunity to be on the same page," said Jonathan Westin, director of New York Communities for Change, a community-organizing group.
In a call for their now mutually beneficial goals, union leaders will demonstrate on Wednesday in Harlem alongside the Real Affordability for All Coalition, which includes about 50 tenants groups and antipoverty advocates, many of whom are allies of the mayor.
Construction union leaders have met with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen and First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris about using organized labor as Mr. de Blasio's affordable-housing plan is developed. City officials said significant details remain to be worked through.
"Affordable housing and quality jobs are both priorities for this administration, and we're working to ensure that we're creating more opportunities in affordable-housing programs for the kind of jobs that lift up New Yorkers," a spokesman for the mayor said.
Selling a potential pay cut on some projects presents a challenge for Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, an umbrella organization of 15 local affiliates of national and international construction unions that operate in the city.
Mr. LaBarbera said the affordable-housing projects, under his plan, would employ the new group of card-carrying union members at lower wages, but they could advance to higher-paying positions outside the affordable-housing market.
"We can make the projects economically viable and be able to bring in non-union members and people in the community and give them an opportunity to come into the union," Mr. LaBarbera said.
He said that 80% of his member unions support the concept.
Some union leaders in Mr. LaBarbera's group said they were skeptical of a plan involving lower pay.
"If they do that they're not going to get the cream of the crop at that price," said Jack Kittle, political director of District Council 9 International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.
Also difficult will be winning the support of real-estate developers, who would be likely to take a cut in profit by paying even reduced union wages, especially in building projects composed of 50% affordable units. They said they are concerned with the feasibility of achieving the mayor's housing goals if construction prices rise and about the quality of workers who would take lower rates.
"It's going to be the minor-league workforce, where you can work on an affordable housing project and make $60 an hour or you can work another project and make $100 an hour," said David Kramer, a principal at Hudson Companies, which develops affordable and market-rate housing.
Unions said they are willing to be flexible about wages and work rules to avoid getting shut out of the push for affordable housing, much of it outside of labor's stronghold in Manhattan.
Labor's hold on the private-sector construction industry in New York state has declined over the past decade to 26% from 30% of workers, , according to the Union Membership and Coverage Database using 2013 data from the Current Population Survey.
During the same period, private-sector unionization actually crept up to 16% from 15%. Three decades ago, about half of private-sector construction workers were unionized.
With construction workers busy building office towers and luxury apartments around the city, there is little pressure for unions to pursue affordable-housing jobs now, experts said. But a foothold in affordable housing could ensure them work even through downturns.
"Unions would be concerned in the next couple of years when the amount of construction is greatly reduced. They want to continue with their membership to make sure that they have jobs," said Richard Lambeck, chairman of the construction management program at the New York University School of Professional Studies.
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Dear Judge Berman: I write as requested by the Court in its Order of June 6”‘ to comment on the proposed Stipulation and Order and Independent Monitor.
I said in the conclusion to my Fifth Interim Report that the shared goal of all concerned with the District Council “is an autonomous District Council, governed wisely by members who ﬂourish in a sound democratic system.” I cited Emerson’s guidance that “bolts and bars are not the best of our institutions” and said “that which will serve the members best” will be the product of their intellect and hard work, integrity and courage.” Fifth Interim Report at 42. The difﬁculty in this regard is of course devising a method to determine when the leaders of the District Council and its Beneﬁt Funds are capable of meeting the responsibility to prudently conduct the business of the Union and the Funds in a continually compliant manner. Though that time may be near, I believe that some mechanism must be in place to insure that the investment of time, money and intellect made by the parties, the Court and my office is protected.
This dispute arises out of the WCC’s claim that the International Agreement executed between it and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (“UBC”) the parent of the WCC, supersedes the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the WCC and the DCC. The DCC seeks to set aside an arbitration award issued on July 22, 2014 in favor of the WCC.
NOTICE OF NOMINATION AND ELECTION OF DISTRICT COUNCIL OFFICERS