Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Unions: Redevelopment projects should have affordable housing guarantees"


Unions: Redevelopment projects should have affordable housing guarantees
Thursday, November 29th 2007, 4:00 AM

The city's major union leaders have secretly approved a new campaign to block future redevelopment projects in the city unless each includes tough new livable wage and affordable housing guarantees, the Daily News has learned.

The first salvo in the campaign will be fired Wednesday afternoon when hundreds of union members are expected to pack a City Council committee hearing to challenge the proposed $3 billion retail, entertainment and residential megaproject in Willets Point, Queens.

At that hearing, leaders of the city's Central Labor Council, the umbrella organization for 400 unions with 1.5 million members, will announce they want livable wage clauses required of all developers, owners and tenants connected to any new project where city rezoning is necessary.

Ever since the heyday of master builder Robert Moses, the city's labor unions have routinely backed the real estate industry's big development projects as a source of construction jobs.
Now, organized labor and the real estate industry could be on a collision course.

Construction union leaders are angry that the city has allowed hundreds of nonunion projects to flourish in the outer boroughs while assuring union jobs only on the biggest projects.

"[Mayor] Bloomberg and [Deputy Mayor Daniel] Doctoroff are upzoning dozens of neighborhoods all over town," one top union leader said. "They're creating huge windfalls for developers, trading air rights all over the place that are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, our union members can't even afford to live in this city anymore. This has to stop."
The labor group's executive council met repeatedly over the past few weeks to work out details of the new campaign. Members include Ed Ott, director of the council; Randi Weingarten of the teachers union; Mike Fishman of Local 32BJ of the service employees union; Lillian Roberts of District Council 37 and Peter Ward of the hotel workers.

"I've never seen the labor movement so united on an issue as we are on this one," said another labor official, who asked not to be identified because the campaign has been kept secret until now.

A delegation from the Central Labor Council met recently with Bloomberg, Doctoroff and their top aides to warn them of organized labor's new policy. The group has also met with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan).

If they can't reach agreement with City Hall and the City Council, the union chiefs say, they will launch a major public relations campaign, mobilize their members to attend City Council hearings and gear up to elect new candidates in the 2009 municipal elections who support the campaign.

Among the reforms the labor leaders want are major changes to the city's zoning laws, greater transparency in development projects and stronger teeth in the city's land review procedures, known as ULURP.

In the Willets Point project near Shea Stadium, the city's Economic Development Corp. has sought to buy up dozens of auto junkyards on the site and remove all the current property owners even before a rezoning plan is approved by the City Council and before a concrete redevelopment project is in place.

Since rezoning is the only part of the process in which the Council has a major say over big projects, union leaders want details of any labor standards spelled out before any such rezoning occurs.

The union leaders say they will be paying close attention to rezoning issues, something they have never done.

In a city like New York, where huge fortunes are being amassed in a Houdini-like manner by the sudden availability of new air rights, it's time that workers have a chance to share in that wealth, they say.

As part of the campaign, they will seek special zoning requirements for any new hotel construction as a way to prevent the spread of nonunion boutique hotels that have sprouted around the city in recent years.

"We're opening a whole new front in labor's fight for a decent standard of living," said another union leader.

amerock Nov 29, 2007 7:27:56 AM The last few months have been giving me a renewed pride in my union afiliation. I hope this trend continues and blue collar NYers can once again afford to live in the neighborhoods that are built with our sweat.

Frunkus Nov 29, 2007 6:59:23 PM We are not living in the 1920's anymore, the unions are like polio, they were a problem back then, but not so much now. Let the free market decided.

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