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LIBN Column: No progress without labor

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jul 05, 2013

Long Islanders have been talking about Jerry Wolkoff’s Heartland project for years, and rightfully so. It’s envisioned as a mini-city of housing, retail and office space that would finally put Suffolk County on the map.

Unfortunately for us all, Heartland is destined for failure, because its visionary lacks vision.

The developer’s disdain for the theory and concept of organized labor has earned him unnecessary enemies. Instead of asking the building trades for help, Wolkoff has fought them.

The result: no results.

The leadership of the building trades on Long Island is the ultimate “project lubricant.” When visionaries and developers partner with these unions, they immediately gain allies in a process that involves everything from public hearings and government lobbying to community outreach and even a public rally or two, with the occasional ad campaign thrown in.

Organized labor has proven time and again that it not only knows how to get the job done on the jobsite, but off. Any lawmaker will tell you that when the unions want a project to go through, they know how to turn out the membership to encourage municipalities to advance the process.

So what happens when nonunion developers and their allies in government join forces to prevent unions from getting construction work?

Take a look at the Town of Riverhead, where Supervisor Sean Walter is a staunch advocate for the Association of Building Contractors, a loose, unorganized conglomerate of nonunion contractors whose sole purpose is to lower construction wages.

In Riverhead, almost nothing gets done. If projects do move forward, they are small jobs that do little to improve our still-fragile economy. Take the town’s new Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, built by men who likely cannot afford to eat there.

On the other side of the spectrum are the four bidders for the huge Nassau Coliseum job. All have a working history with the building unions, and so there’s real excitement on the part of the thousands of soon-to-be-employed construction workers.

While Wolkoff rants about Heartland and Walter builds low-wage big-box stores, the union workforce is preparing to craft a landmark that will define our landscape for decades to come.

Why all the excitement? Because the stakeholders know that “project lubricant” – organized labor – will work with the developer, the general contractors, local government and the community to ensure everything runs smoothly.

It’s what they do, and they do it well.

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