Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/357 Tue, 18 Jun 2019 23:27:16 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) New York Nurses Threaten Major Strike Over ‘Understaffing’ https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8351-new-york-nurses-threaten-major-strike-over-understaffing https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8351-new-york-nurses-threaten-major-strike-over-understaffing  nynurses

(photo: @nynurses)


During one night shift at the children’s hospital where she worked as a nurse, Nicolette Mabeza‘s unit filled up with intubated children. She and the other nurses were frantic.

“It was just the entire floor running around,” said Mabeza, who worked in the intensive care unit at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in Washington Heights. “Some nurses had two intubated patients and they weren’t even right next to each other.”

Nurses stretched to the limit by understaffing would regularly cry on the job, she said.

“Not only does it make you feel that you’re being a terrible nurse,” said Mabeza. “You also wonder, why should patients come here if nurses can’t give the adequate care that they deserve?”

Feeling that she could no longer do her job in good conscience, she quit last April after less than a year at the hospital.

After years of complaints, understaffing has become a major point of conflict between the nurses union and private hospitals in New York City.

Around 13,000 nurses could strike this month if negotiations fail between the New York State Nurses Association and a group of three major hospital systems, union leaders say.

Nurses from Montefiore, Mount Sinai, St. Luke's-Mount Sinai West, and New York-Presbyterian hospitals authorized a strike last week and announced a rally for safe staffing on Monday, March 18 at Mount Sinai Hospital in East Harlem.

“We’re saying enough is enough,” said Carl Ginsburg, a spokesperson for the union, which represents 37,000 nurses. “No sooner do we make a deal than we drift back into this danger zone.”

He said contract negotiations have slowed to a crawl with the New York City Hospital Alliance, an informal bargaining group of private hospitals that includes Montefiore, New York-Presbyterian, and Mount Sinai hospitals.

On the bargaining table is an increase in nurse-to-patient ratios in emergency rooms and intensive care units. Staffing levels have reached dangerously low levels, putting the safety of both nurses and patients at risk, Ginsburg said.

“Sometimes where a nurse should be caring for five patients, she’s caring for eight or 10,” said Ginsburg. “Make no mistake – it’s dangerous.”

In 2018, more than 12,000 nurses signed “Protest of Assignment” forms to complain about unsafe conditions at Montefiore, Mount Sinai, and New York Presbyterian.

A spokesperson for the NYC Hospital Alliance said that hospitals are financially stretched because of state Medicaid cuts. He added that the recent “Protest of Assignment” forms account for a negligible portion of the total number of nurse shifts.

Understaffing at hospitals forces nurses to make tough choices, said Anthony Ciampa, a nurse at New York Presbyterian for the last 14 years.

“I had to make the decision whether to hang blood or to help an elderly patient eat,” said Ciampa. “No nurse should be forced to make these types of decisions.”

The elderly patient sat in front of the food – unable to eat – while Ciampa took care of the blood transfusion, he said. By the time Ciampa was able to help, the patient’s food tray had been removed, untouched.

“I’m still upset about that,” said Ciampa, who is currently representing the union in contract negotiations. “It was like torture to sit there with the meal in front of you and not be able to eat it.”

Outside Brooklyn Hospital Center last month, nurses were reluctant to talk about staffing conditions, fearing retaliation from their employers.

“Everybody’s understaffed,” said a medical assistant who requested anonymity and said she has worked at the hospital for more than 20 years. “The patients are not getting adequate care.”

But the NYC Hospital Alliance denied reports that understaffing is leading to unsafe conditions, and said that enforced staffing ratios would be costly and ineffective.

“The reality is that the union’s rigid, mandated staffing ratios would lower the quality of patient care by overriding the professional judgment of nurses and healthcare professionals and crowding out other members of the care team,” said Linden Zakula, a spokesperson for the group.

Zakula said that state budget cuts to Medicaid have resulted in a loss of $240 million in expected funding for the three hospital groups combined.

“Alliance hospitals respect our nurses and are committed to bargaining in good faith,” said Zakula. “We are doing everything we can to reach an agreement that is fair, reasonable, and responsible for all parties.”

In the last few years, several New York City Council members have shown support for more staffing regulation at hospitals.

“Nurses are some of the most important people in the hospital,” said New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera. “It’s important that they feel they have the resources they need to be supported in some of the most stressful environments.”

Rivera, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Hospitals, cosponsored a resolution in 2018 that called on the state Legislature to pass the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act.

The bill would set specific nurse-to-patient ratios by hospital unit, and would ensure that nurses can’t be assigned to more patients than specified.  Hospitals that break the law would be fined.

But there is no vote in sight for either the Council resolution or the state bill, which are both stuck in committee.

For many years, safe staffing legislation was met with resistance from Republicans who controlled the New York Senate.

Last week, New York Assemblymember Karines Reyes said she was confident that the Senate’s new Democratic majority would bolster the bill’s chances of passing.

“Apart from the Republican Senate’s pushback in past years, the primary obstacle posed to the legislation stems from the conflicting opinions of hospital administrators,” said Reyes, who is also a registered nurse in the Oncology Department at Montefiore Einstein Hospital. “These points of view fail to acknowledge that safe staffing is about saving lives. The legislation is paramount to the safety and outcomes of patients while not only providing adequate staffing to nurses, but to ancillary staff as well.”

While several states have laws that address nurse staffing, California is the only state that requires hospital units to maintain a minimum nurse-to-patient ratio.

Under that law – in effect since 2004 – critical care units in California must have at least one nurse for every two patients. The required nurse-to-patient ratio varies by department, with 1-to-4 for labor and delivery units and 1-to-6 for psychiatric units.

A 2010 study published by the National Institutes of Health found that mandated nurse-to-patient ratios resulted in fewer patient deaths and better morale for nurses compared to other states without similar legislation.

***
Gaspard Le Dem is a freelance journalist. On Twitter @GLD_Live.
@GothamGazette

Note: this story has been updated to change $300 million to $240 million based on corrected information provided by Zakula of NYC Hospital Alliance.

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New York Nurses Threaten Major Strike Over ‘Understaffing’ Tue, 12 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
How to Expand Opportunity in Construction for Those Left Behind https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8321-how-to-expand-opportunity-in-construction-for-those-left-behind https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8321-how-to-expand-opportunity-in-construction-for-those-left-behind gov cuomo con ann fac

(photo: governor's office)


A lot has been made of the disagreement between open shop contractors and union trades over decisions by owners of private projects to supplement select trades. But where others get lost in conflict, I see opportunity. 

In many cases, open shop labor, machine operation, and some carpentry services are integrated to perform certain work, including safety and general condition services. But for many owners and construction managers, the reality is that most of the work on open shop projects is actually performed by union trades – and that is a problem. We have seen certain "progressive" trades using work rules and wage concessions to their benefit. As a result, these trades often have an advantage in being awarded construction contracts. And in this one-sided system, certain unions have been able to maintain and in some cases expand their market share.

Despite the odds stacked against us, open shop companies have been able to preserve a competitive advantage in a small number of trades, including labor, where the cost of doing business with a union shop is double. Due to issues including multi-trade and minimum manning requirements, union companies charge a whopping 20% more for services such as superstructure concrete. And to that end, broad-banding -- a classification system based on certifications and skill levels -- has made open shop contractors more competitive, while giving their employees an opportunity to learn a wide range of skills.

While the rules are written to work against the open shop model, the current construction landscape provides a substantial opportunity for open shop workers should industry and government choose to realize it.

For one, the construction trades and government must start working together to provide and promote extensive safety and trade training -- to increase the technical capacity of the open shop workers. Partnering with community-based organizations will not only provide a trained workforce but a recruitment tool that is ready to provide a steady stream of good-paying jobs to a city-dwelling and diverse population in an industry that desperately needs it.

With a labor market in desperate need of skills training, it’s time for our partners in government to protect their constituents by fostering growth of the market, providing the right environment for open shop contractors to develop career ladders for their employees, and promoting open shop apprenticeship programs through the removal of roadblocks and red tape. This call to action doesn’t apply to laborers alone -- once these individuals complete their apprenticeships, basic labor tradesmen can be offered a path to train in the technical trades, for example as plumbers or electricians. By building on their pre-existing knowledge of construction and the construction process, skilled workers will have more opportunity to succeed in a wide array of trades.

Moreover, living wage and basic benefit programs must continue to be improved to ensure that workers are paid equitably, while  “second chance” programs should be expanded and made accessible to ensure that when an individual has repaid their debt to society, they’re able to get back on their feet in an industry that offers them a path to employment instead of incarceration.

We’ve all heard the term “pale, male, and stale,” and the construction industry has a long way to go before we can shake that label, which is why a focus on diversity will be critical to the industry going forward. Our workforce should be every bit as diverse as the communities we serve.

It’s past time that we as an industry seize this opportunity. The construction industry has historically been the economic sector to narrow wage disparity and give immigrant and forgotten Americans an opportunity to seize the American dream. Let’s work together and continue to give all our workers the ability to reach it.

***
Ron Lattanzio is President of TradeOff Construction Services.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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How to Expand Opportunity in Construction for Those Left Behind Thu, 07 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Big Upsides to Downstate Gaming: Union Jobs and Transit Revenue https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8330-big-upsides-to-downstate-gaming-union-jobs-and-transit-revenue https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8330-big-upsides-to-downstate-gaming-union-jobs-and-transit-revenue new york casino

(photo: Governor's Office)


New York has a proud history of thinking big and building bold. As New York searches for routes to generate new revenue to fund critical priorities, and drive job growth through significant private investment projects, we have an unparalleled opportunity right in front of us.

Albany leaders should lift the moratorium on the expansion of casino development downstate and begin an open competition for the remaining three gaming licenses as approved by New York voters in 2013. No other opportunity is currently on the horizon to provide the infusion of jobs or revenue New York would experience with a robust, competitive, and transparent process to expand gaming downstate.

Surrounding states have taken advantage of New York’s moratorium on downstate gaming by moving quickly to expand gaming and produce new jobs and revenue for themselves.

Boston is putting the finishing touches on a $2 billion resort and gaming complex, with 4,000 permanent jobs and 5,700 construction jobs – good union jobs. Pennsylvania has seen $400 million in new revenue over the past year after enacting a broad gaming expansion. New Jersey is seeing $20 million a month in new revenue from sports betting alone, and Connecticut is considering gaming expansion in Bridgeport and on the New York border. And, ironically, New Yorkers who have limited gaming opportunities in their own state are often the ones funding tax revenues and job growth in neighboring states.

With due respect for our neighbors from Boston to Bridgeport, New York, with 60 million tourists a year to the City, is the single most attractive new market for gaming in the United States. Let’s show we can do it big and do it right: instead of a private company pitting cities against each other in a bidding war, let’s have private casino companies compete with each other for the right to valuable resort gaming franchises in New York.

A New York gaming development license is an extraordinarily valuable asset if structured correctly with a competitive process for three licenses that:

-Establishes a minimum license fee of $500 million per license -- totaling $1.5 billion in upfront revenue;

-Sets a minimum private investment of $2 billion per license -- bringing in $6 billion in private investment;

-Requires union labor on construction jobs and the right for unions to organize permanent operations jobs; and

-Dedicates new revenue to improve public transit service, fund public education, and other New York priorities.

If done right, releasing the remaining three licenses in a competitive bid process will generate tens of thousands of good union jobs and billions in revenue for the City and the State without any federal, state or local subsidies. And it would provide local and accessible economic opportunities for communities that are too often shut out.

The estimated $1.5 billion in up-front license fees from casinos could be dedicated immediately to fund public education or to help close the revenue gap needed for the MTA. If the State moves quickly, this revenue could be available in the next fiscal year. Additional, ongoing revenue from gaming and real estate taxes could be dedicated to fund crucial programmatic priorities – without any subsidies, and no additional taxes or fees on New Yorkers.

A significant private investment requirement of $2 billion for each gaming resort development (on top of license fees) would create a projected 16,800 permanent career union jobs, and an additional 15,000 union construction jobs. These are good jobs, benefiting a diverse union workforce with quality benefits including healthcare, training, and secure career opportunities.

Think about it: $6 billion in private development to fund critical needs. Built and operated by local union labor. No subsidies. Keeping New York dollars in New York. If you created the wishlist for future development in New York, you couldn’t do better. New York has the winning hand when it comes to making the most of the gaming licenses already approved by New York voters: Let’s play it.

***
Gary LaBarbera is President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. John Samuelson is International President of the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Big Upsides to Downstate Gaming: Union Jobs and Transit Revenue Tue, 05 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Prevailing Wage Extension Would Kill Jobs and Limit Housing for New Yorkers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8319-prevailing-wage-extension-would-kill-jobs-and-limit-housing-for-new-yorkers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8319-prevailing-wage-extension-would-kill-jobs-and-limit-housing-for-new-yorkers gov cuomo moynihan

(photo: governor's office)


If there’s one thing that New Yorkers can agree on, it’s that we should always strive to create new jobs, not take them away. Amazon’s recent decision to withdraw its planned “HQ2” from Long Island City is an example of us failing on this front. However, public officials still have an opportunity to redeem themselves by protecting local workers from a proposed prevailing wage expansion.

Discussions are currently underway in Albany to extend prevailing wage requirements to private construction projects and could cost New York City thousands of jobs. Elected officials should heed the warnings of community leaders and push back against powerful unions that are advancing their own agenda at the expense of New York’s working class.

The dangers of expanding the prevailing wage to private work projects are numerous. First, advancing this initiative neglects to consider the negative consequences it will have on the city’s working families. In the past, Governor Cuomo has said, “Construction with public subsidies should be subject to the prevailing wage so they’re built right, they’re built fairly, they’re built union.” However, there’s no guarantee that this requirement will result in projects being built right and fairly—instead, the only thing it assures is that non-union workers are forced out of the hiring pool as developers are forced to hire union.  

As a result, any efforts to extend the prevailing wage to private projects directly impacts workers of color, who make up the majority of the non-union workforce. Per industry data, roughly three quarters of non-union workers are either black or Latino and live in one of the city’s five boroughs. This is in part due to the fact that unions have historically imposed barriers to entry for people of color, which persist to this day. Just two months ago, for example, six African-American engineers at the LaGuardia Airport renovation project filed a lawsuit against the Operating Engineers Local 15 chapter for alleged discriminatory hiring practices and treatment by union supervisors.

Beyond the detrimental effects it would have on minority workers, instituting a prevailing wage requirement at private projects would actually diverge from the dominant trend in the city’s construction industry. According to our analysis of building permit numbers provided by the city, approximately 80 percent of private construction work is now being done by non-union workers.  

Additionally, these workers have secured benefits on par with those of union members. On average, they earn $20 per hour, competitive health care packages, and 401(k) packages that allow them to secure their futures. Therefore, contrary to some misconceptions, opposition to prevailing wage does not equate disregard for workers’ rights.

Expanding the prevailing wage would also have a harmful effect on housing opportunities for many of these non-union workers. New York has an affordable housing shortage, and a prevailing wage will only make this housing crisis worse. The Independent Budget Office found that a prevailing wage requirement would increase construction costs by 23 percent. Additionally, such an increase would significantly alter Mayor de Blasio’s plan to create 80,000 desperately needed new affordable housing units, or simply cost an additional $4.2 billion.   

Ultimately, those same hard-working New Yorkers who are being left out of prevailing wage discussions are the ones who stand to be affected most by it. Our elected leaders should stand up to powerful union interests and their agenda by securing the economic well-being of the construction industry and the workers that build it up.

***
Clark Peña is Director of Advocacy at the Construction Workforce Project. On Twitter @CWPNYC.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Prevailing Wage Extension Would Kill Jobs and Limit Housing for New Yorkers Thu, 28 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Anti-Union Amazon is Not Welcome Here https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8264-anti-union-amazon-is-not-welcome-here https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8264-anti-union-amazon-is-not-welcome-here teamstersjc16 jvb

Jimmy Van Bramer, the author, at a rally (photo: @TeamstersJC16)


Let me be clear: if Amazon is anti-union, it is not welcome in New York City.

This is a union town. It is wrong to subsidize Amazon’s arrival after the company has proudly proclaimed to the world that it is anti-union and will fight any effort on the part of Amazon employees to unionize.

Our city and state would be contributing to economic inequality by allowing Amazon to increase the pool of New York City workers who are not in a union.

Unions have always been the great equalizer, a vital tool for working people to come together and bargain collectively against corporate power and greed.

Amazon’s refusal to agree to labor neutrality is shameful. All workers have the right to be in a union, including those who work at Amazon's fulfillment center on Staten Island and those who would work at a new campus in Long Island City.

Growing up in Astoria, my family didn’t have much money. My stepfather was a janitor. Mom worked at supermarkets. Dad was a pressman. All were fortunate to join unions. Being in a union allowed them to pay the rent and provide for me and my siblings.

Without unions, I would not have had health care, dental care, or the ability to go to college. As is the case for so many working families, unions were the lifeline that my family needed to succeed. How dare Amazon come to our city, to the sum of $3 billion in tax breaks and subsidies, and declare war on workers’ rights to organize?

Last month when I attended Mayor de Blasio’s State of the City speech, I braced for the moment that he would laud the “HQ2” Amazon deal. The deal, after all, had been touted as the largest economic development deal in the history of our state and a major victory for the city. Would it lead off the speech? I wondered how the mayor would talk about being the “fairest big city” while also defending the largest act of corporate welfare in New York.

It came and went in the blink of an eye. One sentence! As the mayor moved quickly from his bad deal, those who’ve critiqued it were vindicated.

By avoiding Amazon in his speech (as the governor did in his State of the State), the mayor tacitly acknowledged that this deal is a loser in progressive, Democratic circles. You cannot align yourself with Amazon — as it remains mum on its cooperation with ICE and steadfastly anti-union — and then appoint yourself as a spokesperson to “spread the gospel” of progressive values all over the country.

The Amazon giveaway is not only bad, it’s immoral. And it should force us all to rethink the race to the bottom approach to economic development incentives. We cannot afford to give $3 billion to Amazon in subsidies and grants when so many people who already live here are struggling to pay rent and stay in their neighborhoods.

With the arrival of “HQ2” in Long Island City, we would see gentrification on steroids in Queens. The influx of high-paid Amazon workers would price out long-time residents and drive away family-owned small businesses, proving particularly detrimental to immigrants and communities of color.

The governor and the mayor have bungled this from day one, and despite what they say, we all know the “HQ2” jobs will be largely inaccessible to communities like Queensbridge that are among the most unemployed and underemployed in New York City.

This Amazon debacle must be an inflection point for our society, where we reign in corporate welfare and the billionaire class and give more power to the people who have the least among us.

We should be encouraging workers’ efforts to unionize, protecting small businesses, and investing in our local community, not trillion-dollar corporations owned by the richest man on Earth.

Those of us who care about ending economic inequality must reject so-called “progressives” who in practice recite Republican talking points that espouse the lies of trickle-down economics and right-to-work, anti-union nonsense.

The mayor can cancel this deal right now. If he is actually concerned about Amazon abetting ICE and busting unions, he should do so immediately.

***
Jimmy Van Bramer is a New York City Council member representing Long Island City and other parts of Queens. On Twitter @JimmyVanBramer.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Anti-Union Amazon is Not Welcome Here Wed, 06 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
New York City Is Still a Union Town and That’s a Great Thing for Our Future https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8212-new-york-city-is-still-a-union-town-and-that-s-a-great-thing-for-our-future https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8212-new-york-city-is-still-a-union-town-and-that-s-a-great-thing-for-our-future count me in bldg trades


New York City - a beacon of the labor movement - has a duty to stand up for construction unions and serve as a model for rest of country

The labor movement is under attack. Over the past few years, assaults on unions and labor have escalated at a breakneck pace. From recent court cases like Janus v. AFSCME to right to work legislation creeping through state legislatures, one thing is clear: unions remain strong, but our resolve is being tested by increasingly relentless attacks from moneyed interests and a hostile political environment where the value of profit is placed over the value of working people.

We all know what happens when union and labor power are diminished -– a race to the bottom follows where working people lose out and a handful of wealthy individuals reap the rewards of everyone else’s hard work. That is not to say the pursuit of wealth should be discouraged – healthy entrepreneurship, innovation, and risk power the economic engine of New York, and those who drive their industry forward should be rewarded; however, the engine works best when all its pieces are working fairly and in concert.

There’s a reason New York is the most union dense state in the country, and that is because, as New Yorkers, we don’t settle for less, we champion the best. Unions are the backbone of this state and from the recent fight to codify construction safety to #CountMeIn, our movements have been at the forefront of pushing the country forward in the fight to build a solid middle-class for all.

Now, more than ever, New York City finds itself at a pivotal moment in labor history. With growing wealth inequality and in the face of a commercial and residential construction boom, will developers and power players stand up for our middle-class or will they settle for the lowest denominator, like open shop, in the name of cost-cutting?

As Governor Andrew Cuomo has mentioned, New York will continue moving forward by building new bridges, new airports, and other new infrastructure. This means jobs - lots and lots of middle-class jobs. Middle-class jobs aren’t created out of thin air -- they require cooperation between job creators and job seekers and the understanding that if an employee works hard and does their part they should be able to support a family without worrying about whether their next paycheck will be enough to scrape by or whether they will make it home safely.

Lawmakers need to spearhead legislation to ensure that residents are being paid higher wages, provided with adequate health benefits, and are placed in an environment with good working conditions -- tenets of union work. These are not revolutionary ideas, but axioms of New York’s history -- a history that some would like to see erased.

With a wave of development underway ranging from Hudson Yards, to Amazon HQ2, to residential booms in Brooklyn and the Bronx, local and state officials and developers must work together to protect unions, particularly as it relates to construction.

This means no open shop for Hudson Yards. This means work environments with high standards. Taxpayers are already footing the bill for massive projects like Hudson Yards, they expect something in return. How about some middle-class jobs? There should be no blank checks in the greatest city in the world. Open shop is broken shop and New Yorkers deserve better.

They know they deserve better and that’s why, over the past year, we’ve seen the enormous grassroots success of the #CountMeIn movement, which has brought together New Yorkers of different races, religions, and backgrounds united in a fight for their fair share. While much has been made of reports of a supposed decline of construction unions in New York City, such analyses do not take into consideration total market share. For example, growing claims of the rise of open shop do not paint the whole picture because they exclude commercial or institutional markets. When the dollar amount is analyzed, union construction accounts for 70 percent of New York City’s total construction -- a much higher proportion than non-union construction. The #CountMeIn movement is evidence that the revival of the labor movement starts here and it begins with construction unions.

Now is the time for lawmakers and developers to cultivate this grassroots energy and do what is right: listen to the voices of New York and reject open shop, promote worker-friendly legislation and show that yes, we can continue to build the greatest city in the world, and we can do it while creating middle-class jobs and preserving the economic future for the next generation.

New York’s metric for success is not just about jobs or numbers on a spreadsheet, it’s about dignity and quality of life for our workers. At this moment in history, this is a battle worth fighting, and if it is won, it will serve as a model for the rest of the country.

Let’s prove that New York cares about fairness and a strong middle class. The future of unions and the labor movement depends on it.

***
Gary LaBarbera is President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. On Twitter @NYCBldgTrades.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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New York City Is Still a Union Town and That’s a Great Thing for Our Future Thu, 17 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
New York City is No Longer Just a Union Town; Open Shop Construction Workers are Finding Their Voice and Must Be Heard https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8169-new-york-city-is-no-longer-just-a-union-town-open-shop-construction-workers-are-finding-their-voice-and-must-be-heard https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8169-new-york-city-is-no-longer-just-a-union-town-open-shop-construction-workers-are-finding-their-voice-and-must-be-heard construction workers

(photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)


We’ve all heard that old refrain: “New York City is a union town.” In some cases, that’s still true, as many unions remain both politically influential and dominant in their industries.

But the truth is that New York City is no longer a union town when it comes to construction, as the vast majority of private sector work is being done by the open shop. A review of New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) pulled permits shows that most private construction work across the city – approximately 80 percent – is now done by open shop workers. That equates to more than $15 billion of work for the non-union workforce.

And despite what you might hear from the unions themselves, that’s actually a good thing for local communities and workers who’ve been left behind by the building trades. Men and women of color are finding new opportunities to enter the construction industry, and rates of local hiring on new projects are increasing.

The problem now is that even though construction unions no longer have most of the work in New York City, they still have the loudest voice. Whenever there’s a public discussion about laws or rules affecting the industry, politicians and policymakers always hear from union bosses – but they rarely hear from open shop workers about their interests and their needs.

More elected officials should recognize that the open shop is a prime source of employment and career paths for New Yorkers of color. Around three-quarters of open shop workers are black or Latino and residents of the five boroughs.

Officials also need to understand that construction workers in the open shop are earning good wages and benefits that far surpass those offered in entry-level positions in other industries. Workers are earning at least $20 per hour upon getting into the industry, as well as accessing crucial health insurance and 401k programs.

Beyond the obvious economic benefits for our city’s marginalized families and communities, open shop has also begun to reverse the impact of decades of discriminatory hiring practices in the construction industry. While unions have certainly come a long way, many barriers still stand in the way for people of color entering the field of construction.

This is all because, as its name implies, the open shop provides a particularly inclusive hiring model. And given the high rate of diversity in our part of the industry, employers now are investing more in construction safety and skills training programs for non-English speakers. The incorporation of bilingual instructors into these programs has facilitated efforts to attract workers from diverse backgrounds and expanded open shop job opportunities further.

The question now is how to keep moving the needle. As the open shop continues to expand, the need for support and resources from city and state officials will only continue to increase. These workers work hard to support themselves and their families – and they deserve fairness from politicians across the spectrum.

Politicians at all levels must identify a long-term, ongoing effort to create resources for open shop workers and residents of this great city. New York City really is not just a union town anymore. We’re proud of that and ready to fight to keep that progress going.

***
Brian Sampson is president of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Empire State Chapter. On Twitter @ABCEmpireState.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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New York City is No Longer Just a Union Town; Open Shop Construction Workers are Finding Their Voice and Must Be Heard Tue, 01 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Infrastructure Planning Should Not Include Vilifying Workers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8060-infrastructure-planning-should-not-include-vilifying-workers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8060-infrastructure-planning-should-not-include-vilifying-workers sandhogs 12


Development and infrastructure are among the most widely discussed topics in New York City. Over the last few weeks, for example, City & State hosted the Rebuilding New York Summit focusing on infrastructure, financing, and policy; an article came out regarding MTA contracting reform; and several City Council members had a press conference to call for an investigation into MTA spending. But typically missing from the conversation are the people actually doing the work. When workers are mentioned, it’s usually to argue that the costs associated with labor make it harder to take on or to complete new projects. These recent instances fell right into this familiar pattern.  

The New York State Laborers’ Organizing Fund, which participated in the Rebuilding New York Summit, was pleased to be able to provide the perspectives of our more than 40,000 members -- men and women who work day-in and day-out to keep New York running. Our members in New York are skilled, knowledgeable, and professional Construction Craft Laborers including cement and concrete workers, drill runners and demolition specialists, asphalt pavers and asbestos workers, sandhogs, or tunnel workers, hazardous waste workers, and more.

This workforce paves our roads, builds our railways, bridges, and utilities. The Laborers ensure this workforce is well-trained, safe, and sustained so that it may continue to build and repair projects for years to come. Workers receive competitive wages to support themselves and their families, safety and skills training, health Insurance, and savings toward retirement. The unionized construction industry provides workers with a sustainable career, which raises the bar for non-union workers as well, and benefits everyone in society.

Investing in infrastructure is necessary. It contributes to economic growth by producing reliable and quality projects which allow New Yorkers and products to move around more easily. It supports the continually increasing population of the city, as well as those who visit it. And finally, it creates jobs and increases the demand for a skilled workforce. But we cannot talk about the building and infrastructure needs without including those who will physically do the often dangerous work.

Is the cost of labor too high?
In December 2017, a New York Times piece reported the costs of tunnel labor in Paris and compared it to the cost in New York City, and what was clear is that they were not the equal. The piece claimed that workers in New York City are paid over $100 an hour while a similar worker in Paris is paid the equivalent of $60. But, left out of that math is that a large portion of hourly “wage” in New York actually goes to paying for healthcare, retirement, and paid leave. These benefits exist as government-sponsored programs in many places around the world, but not here. What these tunnel workers here in New York are left with as take-home pay at the end of the day is actually less than someone doing the same work in Paris.

New York taxpayers are construction workers and construction workers are taxpayers who also want jobs completed efficiently, safely, and by the most skilled workers to ensure quality. We ride the trains, drive on the roads, and live in the buildings with our families, and those of our neighbors.

All building and repairing projects in New York must include worker protections. This can help to ensure workers have basic wage and safety expectations and that projects are done in a professional and competent manner. But when the New York City subways received many headlines for their state of disrepair, workers were targeted. Scapegoating construction worker wages, and decisions made to build a well-trained workforce, is a simplistic argument to describe the challenges of complex and multi-billion-dollar projects.

Instead of demonizing workers because they can support themselves and their families, we should strive to raise the bar for all workers and penalize worker exploitation. We cannot support projects where taxpayer money is used, and workers are exposed to irresponsible contractors with histories of wage theft, safety violations, and low-wages.

It’s a matter of life and death for workers. How much is a worker’s life worth? Working in construction is dangerous. When workers are represented they may feel less pressure to work on an unsafe jobsite or perform a task they do not know how to do. Newly immigrated workers and day laborers may put their lives in dangerous situations for their livelihood. Union contractors ensure the safety of workers and uphold the standards of the industry while nonunion contractors continually cut corners using unsafe cost-saving measures, putting the scrupulous contractors at a disadvantage.

We must continue to raise the standards for all workers and to demand that contractors and developers do the same, and remember the worker when discussing infrastructure needs in New York.

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Vinny Albanese is Director of Policy and Public Affairs at New York State Laborers’ Organizing Fund (LIUNA).

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Infrastructure Planning Should Not Include Vilifying Workers Fri, 23 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
‘It’s Really a Race’: Supreme Court Ruling Intensifies High-Stakes Battle for Public Workers https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7772-it-s-really-a-race-supreme-court-ruling-intensifies-high-stakes-battle-for-public-workers https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7772-it-s-really-a-race-supreme-court-ruling-intensifies-high-stakes-battle-for-public-workers gov cuomo legisla

Gov. Cuomo supports labor unions (photo via the Governor's office)


On a recent morning, Pam Stemberg tiptoed toward an open doorway. "My job is to stalk people," she said. 

That's not quite her job. An English professor at City College in Upper Manhattan, Stemberg chases down colleagues in her second role as a union organizer. But her union pitch hasn't emphasized pocketbook issues like wages or benefits; it’s been focused on the threat posed by a Supreme Court case called Janus v. AFSCME, which concerns whether millions of public sector workers nationwide can opt out of the fees imposed by the union that represents them.

On Wednesday, the high court handed down a landmark 5-4 ruling that labor advocates like Stemberg feared and conservative groups sought: public workers can now opt out of union fees and must affirmatively opt in. 

The ruling intensifies a high-stakes recruiting war as public sector unions try to keep workers paying fees, while conservative groups persuade them to opt out or not opt in at all. If a critical mass of workers chooses to stop paying, it could financially cripple public sector unions, hurt their ability to organize and negotiate, and diminish their political contributions, which largely support Democrats. The outcome of the recruiting battle will determine the power of organized labor in New York, the nation’s most unionized state, with ramifications for much of the policy that comes out of Albany and City Hall. 

"It's really a race," said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, or AFT, a union that represents 1.6 million public employees nationwide and has affiliates with over 600,000 public workers and retirees in New York state, during an interview earlier this year. “This is an existential threat.”

At issue in the case were agency fees, payments assessed to workers whether or not they join the union at their job as full-fledged members. The lawyers for Illinois child support specialist Mark Janus argued that such fees violate workers’ free speech rights, since the payments go to support collective bargaining.

Because the salaries of public workers are borne by taxpayers, the bargaining services amount to coerced political speech, the lawyers argued. Unions said the fees are necessary because workers who decline to pay them become freeloaders, benefiting from union services without financially supporting them.

Ultimately, Janus prevailed. The high court’s five conservatives sided with Janus, while its four liberals dissented. Trump-appointee Neil Gorsuch, who cast apparently decisive votes on Tuesday in contentious cases concerning abortion and the Trump travel ban, again showed his impact on the court.

Overall union membership in the United States has plummeted for decades, reaching an all-time low of 10.7 percent in 2016, but public-sector union membership nationwide has held steady at a far higher rate of 34.4 percent. That rate is even greater in New York, where two out of every three of the state's 1.4 million public sector workers belong to a union, the highest such rate for any state in the country.

Now that public sector union fees are optional, some workers will likely rescind their payments, reducing union revenues. Consider Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana, where right-to-work laws passed in the last decade have contributed to an average 2.1 percentage point drop in union membership, according to the left-leaning Illinois Economic Policy Institute.

The decision in favor of Janus will result in the eventual loss of 726,000 public sector union members nationwide, a decline of 15.3% in the 22 states that, until now, have required workers to pay union fees, an Illinois Economic Policy Institute report said last month. The study predicts that 136,000 of those lost fee-payers will be in New York, a more than 10-percent drop in the state.

The unions have sought to minimize their potential post-Janus losses by converting fee-payers to full-fledged members, and so retaining their payments, said Shaun Richman, program director of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies at SUNY Empire State College and a former organizing director with the AFT.

“The public sector unions are making sure they ask every single represented worker to join,” he said.

The Professional Staff Congress, or PSC, a union that represents 30,000 faculty and staff in the public university system in New York City, added two full-time organizers to what was a staff of five, said vice president Mike Fabricant. Another 200 union members, including Stemberg, have been talking to coworkers one-on-one about the importance of supporting the union, Fabricant said.

“They’re the lifeblood,” he said. “When a faculty member or staff person makes that argument it has a different gravity than when a PSC organizer does.”  

A year ago, 86 percent of full-time professors represented by PSC were members; now 94 percent are, Fabricant said several weeks ago. The union has also seen an uptick in membership among adjunct professors: 54 percent a year ago has jumped to 62 percent, he added.

In April, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law that helps unions soften the blow of a decision in favor of Janus. The law requires public employers to inform unions of new hires and let them meet with the workers within 30 days; it also allows the unions to deny some services to workers who opt out of paying fees.

But the decision in favor of Janus will intensify right-wing outreach aiming to encourage public workers to opt out of union fees, said Dan DiSalvo, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and a professor of political science down the hall from Stemberg, at City College. In recent weeks, the conservative Freedom Foundation has sent mailings to workers on the West Coast about their now newfound opportunity to opt out. In the past, the Freedom Foundation has event sent organizers to knock on workers' doors.

“It’s a communications war,” DiSalvo said.

“The position of Janus is his First Amendment rights are being violated because he’s being forced as a condition of his job to pay into an organization with which he disagrees politically,” DiSalvo said. Conservative groups are “not trying to recruit anyone to become a conservative or anything like that, but to inform people of their rights.”

Richman says such recruitment will eventually reach populous blue states, the union strongholds.

“Nobody should be under any illusions that that’s not going to happen in Illinois, in California, in New York,” Richman said. “You might think they’re going to get punched in the face if they knock on the door to get people out of the union. They’re going to do it anyway.”

If public sector workers decline initial overtures from such groups, the workers can still withdraw from union fees down the road. “This is something that’s going to play out a bit longer than ‘oh, today there are unions; tomorrow there aren’t,’” said Richman.

The political implications could be significant, reducing the power not only of public sector unions but of the liberal politicians they support. “Perhaps there will be a rebalancing of the political playing field in states like California and New York,” said DiSalvo. “There might be a better policy mix.”

At the April signing of a bill to help unions in the event of a ruling in favor of Janus, Cuomo condemned the anticipated decision as an attack on workers.

"Too often, and at the hands of this federal administration, we are seeing the labor movement going backwards,” he said. “In New York it is a different story, and our efforts to protect working men and women are moving labor forward, making the workplace fairer and more just than ever before.

On this issue, Mayor Bill de Blasio appears to be in lockstep. "Organized labor brought us the middle class in this country," de Blasio reportedly said on Tuesday when asked about the then-impending Janus decision, adding that the anticipated outcome would be misguided and troublesome.

When the ruling came down on Wednesday, United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew issued a statement, saying: “The Janus decision reflects years of scheming by forces desperate to destroy workers' rights and to undermine public education." He added that the teachers union "will remain strong, and we will not be silenced. Everything we have been able to accomplish for our members and our students has come from our ability to work together, and we will continue to fight for the rights of workers, their families and for public education.”

Stemberg said when she talks to coworkers, she focuses on building bonds, hoping that will minimizing any long-term losses. “You’re not only getting them to sign up but to value the union,” she said.

She said the organizing around a Janus decision has been bittersweet.

“I’m so grateful more people are paying attention,” she said. “Did I want it to be this way with Damocles’ sword hanging over our heads? Absolutely not—it’s scary.”

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by Max Zahn for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette @MaxZahn_

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‘It’s Really a Race’: Supreme Court Ruling Intensifies High-Stakes Battle for Public Workers Wed, 27 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Fallacy of Janus at The Supreme Court https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7495-the-fallacy-of-janus-at-the-supreme-court https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7495-the-fallacy-of-janus-at-the-supreme-court uft arthurgold feb

photo: @UFT


The Supreme Court of the United States will shortly rule on the Janus v. AFSCME case. Janus contends that any and all union activity is inherently political, that no one should have to contribute anything to union activity, and that we should therefore become a “right to work” nation. That’s an interesting concept.

My union, the United Federation of Teachers, has a political fund called COPE, and I contribute. I frequently disagree with UFT candidate endorsements and decisions, but I believe it’s important to empower our union. Not all of my friends believe that, but contributions to the political fund are strictly voluntary.

Union does, however, help press for things like higher pay, better working conditions, and increased benefits. We teachers and our union are frequently criticized for those demands. I see our working conditions as student learning conditions. I see our profession as a pathway to the middle class. At least two of my former students are now my colleagues, something I’m proud of. I think it’s our responsibility to leave our profession better for future generations. Of course, others may disagree with what we strive for.

It’s entirely possible there may be a class of teachers who want more work, less pay, and fewer benefits. A ruling for Janus, which would certainly weaken unions, could help achieve that. I’m UFT chapter leader at the largest school in Queens, and I represent Democrats, Republicans, and independents. I’ve never met a single member who wanted more work, less pay, and fewer benefits, but I don’t doubt they may exist. There are over 200,000 UFT members, and I don’t know them all.

Nonetheless, I’m fascinated by the concept that Americans ought not to be compelled to contribute toward political activity that, at least in theory, benefits them. If SCOTUS rules for Janus (and smart money says it will), then this “freedom” ought not to be limited to union activity. For example, like many Americans, I don’t want to pay for Donald Trump’s golf outings. Why, then, is my money covering those trips?

In fact, I don’t really want to pay for Jared and Ivanka in the White House either. I understand Ivanka may not be taking a salary, but I’m sure she incurs expenses -- an office in the White House can’t be cost-free. Why do I need to pay for the space and upkeep? I’d like to opt out of that as well.

It’s entirely conceivable that Donald Trump may start a war to divert attention from the ever-rising tide of scandal that perpetually engulfs him. If he does, I’d rather not pay. If he ever builds that wall, I don’t want to pay for that either. I could go on.

I understand that, under the new Trump tax system, New York will be further picking up the tab for states that levy little or no income tax. Why should New Yorkers have to do that? If other states don’t wish to tax their citizens, it shouldn’t be up to us to build their roads or pay for their services. Maybe, like the union members who want more work for less pay, those states have residents who don’t want roads or services.  They should have the absolute right to live without them, and we ought not to get in their way.

Like a state or country, a union is a group of people who share an interest. Together we try to make things better for our group. We work together to advance our interests, and that’s why we have collective bargaining. I understand that, in a large union and in a democracy, I may not always agree with the direction in which we’re moving, but I have to do my part. And more broadly, I understand, as a citizen, that I have to do my part.

I freely acknowledge that our union may not be adequately representing the interests of teachers who want more work for less pay. I can understand that they may wish to opt out of union dues, even if doing so leaves them with more pay in the short run. (Call me cynical, but, if the SCOTUS ruling goes for Janus, I suspect some people who don’t want more work for less pay will also opt out just to save a few bucks.) The fact is that so-called right to work states have lower pay and fewer benefits, and that could become the norm after Janus.

However, if union activity is inherently political, so is government activity. If people are permitted to opt out of union dues, we ought to also be able to opt out of taxes. As soon as we can do that, I will consider supporting Janus.

But until that happens, everyone who benefits from a union should pay their fair share.

***
Arthur Goldstein is an ESL teacher and UFT chapter leader for Francis Lewis High School. On Twitter @TeacherArthurG.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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The Fallacy of Janus at The Supreme Court Mon, 26 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000