Construction workers walk off $875 million Long Island City complex project due to low wages and unsafe conditions

Photo courtesy of Steamfitters Local 638

Four non-union steamfitters walked off of a multimillion-dollar residential project being constructed in Long Island City after claiming their employers were exploiting them with low pay and unsafe working conditions.

The 1,789-unit residential complex on Jackson Avenue is being developed by Tishman Speyer and the three towers are located at 28-10 Jackson Ave., 28-30 Jackson Ave. and 30-02 Queens Blvd. They are slated to rise 44 stories, 53 stories and 33 stories, respectively and contain 1,789 units with retail on the ground floor.

Alex Xande, Yuriy Olefirenko, Ivica Juric-Marijanivoc and Marjan Pejkovic all walked off the site on June 10 and joined Steamfitters Local 638. The union captured the four men walking out in a video.

“Four weeks ago this job was shut down for three weeks,” Xande, a welding veteran of 35 years, said in the video. “We had no money, no salary. My company [didn’t] give me benefits at all.”

In May, the city partially halted construction because objects fell off the roof of the construction site.

Pejkovic, a Croatian welding veteran of seven years told QNS that his employer, Iconic Mechanical, was not providing workers with premium wages and that Turner Construction, the company that runs the site, was not running it safely.

According to city records, Turner Construction racked up several violations including “failure to safeguard all persons and property affected by construction operations” on May 16.

Two days later, the company violated the approved site safety plan when they failed to create an emergency exit for the E, M and R subway station located at 28-20 Jackson Ave.

On May 4, inspectors noted that Turner Construction failed to provide guard rails for workers who were erecting the 12th floor of the tower at 28-10 Jackson Ave.

James Sheeran, organizer for Steamfitters Local 638, approached Pejkovic and the other men about joining the union. He said Pejkovic and his colleagues were making between $16 and $33 an hour when the area standard for a project of that scale is $110 an hour.

“It’s becoming more and more the norm and 14 years I’m doing this, you always see some small non-union jobs and some unsafe conditions but now you’re coming to 40-, 50-, 60-story buildings and it’s an everyday occurrence and the standard [for construction projects throughout the city] has been dropped to the wayside,” Sheeran said about the safety issues.

After joining the union, Pejkovic and his colleagues started working on another project for the School Construction Authority just three days later on June 13.

“We had a beautiful experience [with] 638 union and the way they welcomed us and how we had a job right away, I wish that for everybody,” Pejkovic said.

Sheeran said in addition to providing medical benefits, pensions and higher wages his union provides training and free night classes in sprinkle fitting, steam technology and more. He said union members are trained to work under a certain standard of safety, which can help minimize accidents on the job.

“It’s not an easy job, it’s a skilled craft and if you’re not skilled at it and you haven’t been schooled you can be hurt real quick,” Sheeran said.

Long Island City has seen an explosion of development in the last several years and Sheeran said it’s difficult for city agencies like the Department of Buildings to properly regulate each site.

“Long Island City is so hot right now that it’s growing at a pace, quite honestly, I don’t know how anyone can keep up with it,” he said. “Some of these jobs are being done on the fly by night without permits until they get caught.”

The three-tower project will cost $845 million to build and is set to be completed by June 2018. Tishman Speyer did not respond to a request for comment.

QNS has reached out to Turner Construction and Iconic Mechanical and is awaiting response.

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