No Deal without a Union Deal
Why developers need to work with the Building Trades, handshakes and promises are not enough
In my neck of the woods, I went down to a Town Hall meeting and urged the Board to delay a major building project because it lacked a Project Labor Agreement. The names and faces may be different if you're in New York, Miami, Chicago or LA, but the game is always the same. Enjoy...
Fifteen years ago, I met a much younger Gerry Wolkoff, the visionary behind the Heartland Town Square mega project that will bring a mixed use mini-city development to the dilapidated Pilgrim State properties in Brentwood. His energy and excitement was, and still is, contagious.
But Gerry has a fixable problem. His problems with working with organized labor have not improved over the years and that’s the only reason why there’s still no shovel in the dirt. The massive turnout of the building trades at the last public hearing, as well as the reservations of government and civic leaders, forced the Town of Islip to delay the first phase once again, and they were correct in doing so.
I am in favor of Heartland, but not right now. We can’t fast track this plan without a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) that secures opportunities for local hiring and training for the next generation of construction workers. Heartland will take 20 years to complete and Islip Town, the Building Trades Council and the Walkoff’s have a responsibility to train the next generation of skilled construction trades. Here are four other reasons why a delay was justified.
- Even after the Building Trades Council offered a reduction in wages by 20 percent across the board to guarantee labor peace, the Walkoff’s made no in-writing commitments to hire local or union labor. Yes, a few unions have handshake promises, but most do not. What does this really mean? Contractors from Queens from other Walkoff properties will get the work. Responsible Long Island builders understand that with projects this big, you need well financed and experienced union general contractors to get the job done on time and under budget. Local workforce stability is not in place.
- No one has seen any blueprints or plans. Talented architects have created beautiful power point presentations, video’s and pictures. The imagery dangled at meetings is not financial plans or sub-contractor project deadlines that show just how the job will get done.
- The first proposed phase of this project is 90 percent residential and 10 percent commercial. Islip, like most towns, has an affordable housing problem and there are no guarantees by Walkoff to offer this. He told the board at the hearing that he was going to try his best to keep rents low. The working poor in the audience didn’t like that comment.
- Infrastructure instability. Just as Trump has no plan for improving infrastructure, neither does the Heartland Town Square team. Local towns all come out against it. Plans for expanding the Sagitos Parkway should have been signed and sealed at this point. This project will make a bad parkway even worse.
At the end of the public hearing, Walkoff did something that pushed him even farther from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. He said ‘I will not sign a Project Labor Agreement.” Organized labor and their friends and allies in the civics and government are the only people on this Island that can address each of these issues and come to a resolution. A PLA will make Heartland a reality; not having one in place just makes Heartland Town Square what it really is – just a good idea.
LaGrange is the head of UCOMM Communications, a labor focused communications firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter @UCOMMBlog. This column first appeared in the Long Island Business News.