Gotham Gazette

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Saying Yes to Good Jobs in Queens When We Need Them Most

mayor b visits

Construction workers at work (photo: Edward Reed/Mayoral office)

New York City is on a long road for recovery from COVID-19. Many of us have a family member, friend, neighbor, or co-worker who has been directly infected with this horrible disease. Because of our tragic experience, New Yorkers recognize better than people from any place across the globe the importance of masks, social distancing, and handwashing, and we have transitioned from the epicenter to become one of the safest places in the country.

But while we have taken many necessary steps to combat the spread of COVID-19, the tragic loss of life has coincided with a demoralizing loss of livelihood. As a new federal administration prepares for the next four years, we need to focus on reviving our economy. Close to one million New Yorkers are out of work and the Partnership for the City of New York predicts that as many 75,000 small businesses may never reopen. Those are our neighbors, friends, and loved ones. Many are wondering how they’ll pay the rent or mortgage, get health care, or put food on the table.

At times of deep unemployment, infrastructure projects often provide an economic stimulus that can make a big difference in our neighborhoods. One of those projects is right here in Queens.

NRG plans to upgrade the technology at the Astoria Generating Station to make it much cleaner and much more efficient, providing an economic and environmental boost to a neighborhood that needs both. These are well-paying jobs with benefits. Many employees live in Astoria, supporting local businesses and helping to create even more jobs. They pay taxes and support community groups year-round. 

This is one of the plants the state relies on to provide extra power when electricity demand surges. For example, if the plant hadn’t been activated during August’s tropical storm that resulted in massive blackouts across New York, hundreds of thousands more city residents could have lost power. Much of what took place in California is the direct result of shutting down power plants before there is adequate power generation to replace them. 

That’s why NRG plans to replace these 50-year-old turbines with cleaner technology that will reduce peak air emission rates by 99% per hour. The project will create 175 new good-paying union jobs at a prevailing wage and with full benefits.

Many unions and labor organizations – including the 100,000-member Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York that I lead – are proud members of Climate Jobs NY. We’re dedicated to projects that meet the state’s aggressive commitment to addressing climate change, which this plan will do. The technology that our members will be installing in Astoria is fully convertible to hydrogen fuel in the future, giving New York State even greater opportunities to achieve its zero-carbon emission goals.

These jobs would come at a crucial time during this historic economic downturn. Right now, one in eight working-age adults in Queens is out of a job. If a second COVID-19 wave moves into New York City this winter, our economy is likely to take another hit. 

In addition to the full-time jobs created at the work site, the project will create an additional 1,000 jobs—stemming from increased business at local restaurants, shops, and other businesses. In all, according to an independent economic study, the project stands to inject more than $325 million into the local economy, a crucial lifeline for countless small businesses that are struggling to get by.

Approving this project should be a no-brainer for the state. The new technology is available now, is better for the environment and helps the state meet its climate goals. It creates good-paying union jobs and supports the local economy in an area hit hard by the pandemic. It’s important that everyone understands what this project will bring, because we can’t continue to let some activists disrupt crucial opportunities to add jobs because of their narrow definition for what the borough and its people need.

And essentially, upgrading the Astoria plant ensures that New York City has reliable power at a time when demand is increasing. For all these benefits, the project doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime. NRG is fully funding these improvements. 

For all these reasons, let’s make sure the Astoria Replacement Project moves forward to help our communities. We can’t turn our backs on Queens. 

Gary LaBarbera is president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, an organization comprising local affiliates of 15 national and international unions representing 100,000 working men and women in New York City. On Twitter @NYCBldgTrades.

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