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AFL-CIO prez visits armory

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Union boss Richard Trumka stopped at Kingsbridge Road and Reservoir Avenue on Tuesday, September 22 to buttress the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA) in its quest for a community benefits agreement.

“You see this wonderful building behind me?” Trumka shouted. “It can become the heart of this community. It can create jobs and a sense of hope… Or it can become a profit center… We cannot allow it to become a profit center. It must become the heart of this community.”

Elected president of the ALF-CIO on Wednesday, September 16, Trumka is the top labor leader in America. In the Bronx on a nationwide “listening tour,” he promised to pressure The Related Companies to sign a benefits agreement and guarantee a living wage for retail workers at its planned Kingsbridge Armory shopping mall.

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. attempted to negotiate a benefits agreement with Related in August. But the developer refused to consider a living wage guarantee.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a fan of Related, not of benefits agreements. Some expect Bloomberg to champion the shopping mall, sans benefits. If anyone has the authority to challenge the mayor, Trumka does. Bloomberg is up for re-election in November and Trumka commands thousands of union votes.

“[Trumka] being here sends a powerful message,” Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union boss Stuart Appelbaum said. “If the mayor fails to listen, he must be deaf.”

Related is set to buy the armory for $5 million and win some $90 million in tax breaks. The city spent $30 million to renovate the armory roof in 1998.

Prior to a speech in front of the 575,000 square foot behemoth, Trumka huddled with KARA members at the Fordham Manor Reform Church. Appelbaum opened the meeting. KARA members admit that a shopping mall will add jobs to Kingsbridge Heights but argue that conventional retail jobs – low-wage, non-union and part-time – perpetuate poverty.

“If the government is going to assist [Related], then the community has a right to expect benefits in return,” he said.

Trumka praised KARA; the group is composed of unions, residents and the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. The AFL-CIO president described KARA as the model for community action in an age of less than robust unions.

“These are the coalitions we want to create,” Trumka said. “We need to reach out to the religious community, the environmental[ist] community and the jobs community.”

Fordham Hill resident Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter told Trumka about crowded School District 10. She hopes the Department of Education will agree to build schools in the armory annex. Kingsbridge Heights resident Adan Stevens, 25, discussed unemployment among African American and Hispanic American men. Stevens wants to obtain a degree and has worked two jobs to make ends meet. Trumka nodded. He plans to embrace minority and immigrant workers; the labor movement has too often left those workers behind, Trumka said.

Teamster Paul Luddine and ironworker Fred Lemoine represented the trades. The duo joined KARA to ensure that armory shopping mall be union built. Although Related agreed months ago, Luddine and Lemoine stayed on to help KARA win benefits, Luddine said.

“I know in my bones that this what we’re supposed to do,” Lemoine said.

Pastor Doug Cunningham of New Day United Methodist Church called the shopping mall plan a “sweetheart deal between a billionaire mayor and a billionaire developer.” Trumka proposed a “snap-back clause” that would funnel tax break benefits to the community if Related failed to generate the jobs it promised to.

“God bless you,” he told KARA members. “Keep fighting.”

The AFL-CIO will negotiate with Related, Trumka said.

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