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Workers protest use of non-union labor at 5Pointz Towers construction site

By Bill Parry

Nearly 1,000 steamfitters, plumbers, carpenters and concrete workers flooded Jackson Avenue in Long Island City for a lunchtime rally Tuesday to protest developer Jerry Wolkoff’s practices at the site of the former 5Pointz graffiti mecca. During the public review process, Wolkoff’s G & M Realty agreed to several major community givebacks, including a commitment to build and staff the site using 100 percent union labor, so that he could construct an additional 400 units.

Speaker after speaker charged Wolkoff with reneging on that deal. including Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building Trades Council of Greater New York, who offered the developer a Project Labor Agreement. Wolkoff would not sign the pact, but gave his word and shook hands on the deal, LaBarbera said.

“He gave his commitment that this job was going to be a Building Trades job and he went back on his word, he lied to everyone,” LaBarbera thundered in an expletive-filled speech. “I come from the school that when you give your word it’s better than a signed contract. This man was in my office, shook my hand and promised this would be a union project.”

LaBarbera then read from a letter to Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), signed by Wolkoff announcing his “intention to engage contractors which employ individuals represented by labor unions” and promising 800 good paying construction jobs and 200 full time jobs after construction was completed. Van Bramer endorsed the issuance of the variance based on the promises in that letter from Wolkoff.

“Jerry Wolkoff lied to me, Jerry Wolkoff lied to Gary, Jerry Wolkoff lied to every single New Yorker,” Van Bramer told the roaring crowd. “I will never believe another word you ever say nor will I ever approve any future project you want to build in my district or this city.”

Wolkoff claims he never lied and that he would not sign the labor agreement LaBarbera offered because it would have cost him 25 percent to 30 percent more to build his 47- and 41-story 5Pointz towers. He also shrugged off Van Bramer’s threat to block any more of his projects in the city.

“Look, I’ve got nothing against Jimmy. He’s a good union guy, but the contract they offered me would’ve cost me $20 million more to build.” Wolkoff said. “He wouldn’t do it and I’m not doing it. I am not anti-union. but people should wake up and understand the world has changed. The unions might control the politicians, but they don’t control the world anymore. There are other people out there who are non-union. What, they don’t have a right to work?”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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