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If De Niro’s Astoria Project Truly Prioritized Workforce Diversification and Advancement, It’d Be Built Union

Gary LaBarbera ©Alex Kaplan Photography

Aug. 26, 2022 Responding Op-Ed By Gary LaBarbera, President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York

Brian Sampson has it all wrong. Yes, construction work is a pathway to the middle class. However, that is only true because of the collective power of union labor.

Union labor created the prevailing wage.  Union labor created healthcare and pension benefits for construction workers. Union labor advocates for safety legislation, wage, and benefit theft legislation. Union labor enforces these laws. Union labor monitors the unscrupulous conduct of some employers in the industry and help our public agencies enforce wage and hour laws, anti-discrimination laws, anti-harassment laws and many others that make it possible for construction workers to earn and keep a middle-class lifestyle.

Brian Sampson and the ABC again have it all wrong. The claim that unions are predominantly white is nothing more than old rhetoric that is objectively false and purposefully distracting from the truth. The unions affiliated with the NYC Building and Construction Trades Council (NYCBCTC) are recognized by both our government and our communities as the recognized path for construction opportunities.

Through the Apprentice Readiness Collective, a group of our apprentice readiness programs affiliated with the NYC BCTC, between 2016 and 2021, 92% preparing for union apprenticeships were minorities, only 7% of participants in the pre-apprentice programs were Caucasian. These programs recruit from NYC and 100% of participants are residents of the five boroughs with the largest number of participants in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens.

Overall, these programs have a retention rate of nearly 80%. These participants reflect the demographics of the new union recruits. According to a 2017 study by the Economic Policy Institute, the majority of the city’s unionized construction workers were already Black and Hispanic individuals, and the number of workers of color in the construction industry’s unionized ranks has only grown.

The non-union minority workforce is also grossly and disproportionately exploited, usually by unscrupulous non-union contractors, which is why it has been the Building and Construction Trades Council at the forefront of advocating for initiatives in New York that prioritize safety training, combat wage theft, and ensure jobsite accountability, including Carlo’s Law and the state’s establishment of a Wage Theft Task Force, which both benefit all union and non-union construction workers.

Furthermore, non-union labor does not offer or leverage these pre-apprentice programs, which are key factors for unlocking that pathway to the middle class and avoiding exploitation on the job, especially for women and people of color.

Pre-apprentice, apprentice, and direct-entry programs have become a centerpiece of the unionized construction industry. These programs provide tangible opportunities for entry-level workers to receive job and safety training both on-site and in the classroom that prepares them for the worksite and incentivizes long-term commitments between employees and employers, which actionably promotes diversity in the industry and ensures a ready, safe, and productive workforce for years to come.

However, if these projects, like Mr. De Niro’s studio complex development in Astoria, don’t build union, the pipeline of union opportunities shrink and the workers who need the opportunities the most are shut out of good-paying union careers.

Development is ingrained in New York City’s DNA and new builds and construction embody the history of the City, as do the thousands of members of the Building and Construction Trades Council who hail from diverse neighborhoods across the five boroughs.

These projects can show a true and genuine commitment to enriching our communities through development by prioritizing the diverse and New York centric workforce that unions actually provide.

Only then will they be opening a door for workers to earn sustainable wages, with benefits, that are invested directly back into New York’s communities, supporting small businesses and retailers, and creating economic vitality across neighborhoods.

Despite Mr. Sampson’s misleading assertions, it is unions that are leading the way in fostering diversity, workplace safety, good-paying jobs and tangible pathways to the middle class within New York’s construction industry. Any project or development that claims to prioritize these key pillars would prioritize union labor.

*Gary LaBarbera is the President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. Established in 1958, the NYS Building & Construction Trades Council currently represents over 200,000 unionized construction workers in New York State. Our 15 local building trades councils, 12 district councils and state associations, and 135 local unions represent the trades that build our roads, bridges, schools, and office buildings. Believing that every worker deserves a fair wage and safe working conditions, our mission is to protect and further these basic privileges. The Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC) consists of local affiliates of 15 national and international unions representing 100,000 working men and women in New York City. For more information, please visit: www.nycbuildingtrades.org

email the author: [email protected]

12 Comments

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sKILLMAniac

SOLIDARITY FOREVER
SOLIDARITY FOREVER
SOLIDARITY FOREVER
THE UNION MAKES US STRONG

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Olga

I thought the article was about Alex Karras who played the dad on a tv show called Webster. Looks like him.

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Concerned Citizen

Excellent rebuttal to the anti-union rhetoric that Brian Sampson spews about unions. New York City is what it is today because it was built by Union labor!

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Brandon Magoo

you forgot the small part…the cost of union dues for each union worker. it’s quite steep, especially in nyc. i feel bad for them. they lose quite a bit of salary. those that run the unions who sit back like executives and collect are asking too much.

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So we should defund the NYPD union?

This take was tired in 1960. Why don’t you support the NYPD union?

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C'mon Man

why do unions take so much from these workers salary? they get paid peanuts to begin with. what a low down dirty shame.

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Imagining not understanding union dues...

If you google “union dues” you’ll understand how unions work! Collective bargaining has proven to increase worker salaries and benefits. Feel free to go work at an Amazon warehouse to understand more!

Shame you liberals are so critical of the NYPD union.

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RTW Legislation keeps people poor

BM- Union members earn better wages and benefits than workers who aren’t union members. On average, union workers’ wages are 11.2% higher than their nonunion counterparts. Ninety-six percent of union workers have employer-provided health insurance, but only 69% of nonunion workers do.
Union dues vary and are usually about 1% of salary not including overtime and have been proven to be beneficial and a good investment.

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The Gipper

Ronald Reagan was the President of the most powerful Union in the US…the Screen Actors Guild….he is the only president to have served as a union leader…please learn history!!

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you looking at me?

when in doubt play the race card and try to make yourself a diversity hero. Lol! Good for them they didn’t let Deniro get away with it. Hopefully the big media outlets pick this story up.

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