The Bronx real estate market is heating up as developers race to get new private and commercial projects shovel-ready, but union laborers in the borough say they have yet to see the growth trickle down to them.
Members of several Bronx construction industry labor unions gathered on Thursday, September 29 on University Avenue just down the road from Bronx Community College to call attention to the recent lack of opportunity in the borough.
With a hearing on a major rezoning of Jerome Avenue that will likely lead to significant commercial and residential development was taking place on campus, protesters said they hoped developers will chose union workers to make those projects a reality.
“We have thousands of members that live in this community, and the rezoning would effect them,” said Anthony Williamson of Local 79.
The zoning change from manufacturing to residential is expected to result in a net increase of approximately 3,250 residential units, of which 20 percent would be affordable housing, as well as 72,273 square feet of community facility space, 35,575 square feet of commercial/retail space.
Approximately 47,795 square feet of industrial space and 98,002 square feet of auto-related space would be eliminated.
Williamson said union members hoped to ensure they would get hired to help rebuild the Jerome Avenue corridor for a livable wage and benefits like healthcare and a pension if the project is approved.
“People’s living standard depends on their income,” he said. “You can say you’re taking guns off the street, but have to put people to work because that’s the only time that’s going to happen.”
Union protesters said they often forced to travel to Manhattan or other boroughs to work.
Privately-funded projects are not required under state law to pay prevailing wage or use organized labor, they said.
“Most of us live in the Bronx and we want to work in the Bronx, but we have to go outside the Bronx because everything in the Bronx is by developers who are exploiting the workers and not treating them right,” said NYC Community Alliance for Workers Justice coordinator Eddie Jorge.
Of the 17 deaths last year that occurred citywide last year, 15 involved non-union laborers, Jorge added.
He also said there had been lawsuits alleging wage theft by some non-union laborers.
John Coffey, a member of Local 46 and a member of Bronx Board of Business Agents, said that while there are already significant projects underway in the borough, private developers usually based outside the city often choose not to hire union laborers, instead hiring laborers from outside the city.
“The contractors are coming in from New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut – they’re all making money here in the Bronx and then going home and spending that money,” Coffey said. “Yet Bronx residents have to travel to make money.”
Those hired in the Bronx are often undocumented migrant workers who are paid less and work under less safe conditions, Coffey alleged.
Senator Gustavo Rivera was among those who spoke at the zoning hearing.
He said after the hearing the community needed to work together to make sure the rezoning of the Jerome Avenue neighborhood met the community’s needs.