For perhaps the first time in his cinematic career that has spanned six decades, film legend Robert De Niro is currently being called out as a bad actor by New York’s building trades unions and a powerful lawmaker who rallied in Astoria Thursday, June 16, to protest the nonunion construction of Wildflower Studios, the screen legend’s new $600 million film production facility that is rapidly rising along Luyster Creek.
Leaders and hardhats from Laborers’ Local 79, Steamfitter Local 638 and Sheet Metal Local 28 joined State Senator Jessica Ramos, who grew up in Astoria and serves as chair of the Labor Committee in Albany, to say that while Wildflower Studios has been lauded for thousands of union jobs it will provide to actors, stagehands, technicians and others in the entertainment industry, the actual construction of the film studio is nonunion.
“Wildflower Studios promised to bring 1,000 good-paying, permanent jobs to Astoria, but there’s no reason those opportunities have to wait until the studio is built,” Ramos said. “When you build the union, your project finishes on time, your worksite is safer and the labor force gets the respect and fair wages guaranteed to them by a solid contract. As a proud union member himself, we know Mr. De Niro knows this, and urge him to put his professed values behind his hiring practices.”
Before entering politics, Ramos was a strong labor advocate with deep experience championing union rights, having worked with Build Up NYC to fight for construction, building, hotel and maintenance workers in New York City and said De Niro’s current stance doesn’t match the ardent support he has expressed for organized labor or even his own experience as a unionized actor.
Most recently, while accepting a lifetime achievement award from SAG-AFTRA, De Niro praised the union and the benefits they bring to his industry for career opportunities and consistent employment.
“Mr. De Niro has benefitted from a long career with union support and representation, and it’s unfortunate he won’t extend the same opportunities for unionized construction workers at Wildflower Studios,” Laborers’ Local 79 Business Manager Michael Prohaska said, calling on contractor Leeding Builder Group to release mandated reports on local hiring and minority and women-owned business participation, in accordance with Queens Borough President Donovan Richards’ approval of the project.
“The borough president stands by and reaffirms his recommendation for the Wildflower Studios project as it relates to union labor, union hiring, MWBE participation, proper reporting procedures, opportunities for Queens youth and more,” a borough president spokesperson said.
“The actor and developer publicized thousands of union theatrical jobs at the new studio but overlooked the economic power and importance of union jobs for the studio’s construction,” Steamfitters Local 638 Business Manager Daniel Mulligan said. “A state-of-the-art, multimillion-dollar facility of this caliber needs a highly skilled and trained workforce, and that’s what Local 79 is urging Mr. De Niro to acknowledge and address. There is no workforce in our industry that can compete with the men and women of Steamfitters 638, when it comes to completing projects on time, under budget, safely and with the highest standards.”
QNS reached out to Leeding Builders Group and Rafael De Niro, the actor’s son who helped guide the project through the city’s public review process, and is awaiting their response.
“Mr. De Niro has spoken highly of the role that unions have in our society, citing his own union as an example. Much like Mr. De Niro’s union, we too have been committed to establishing safe and desirable working conditions for not only our members but for all working people,” D+Sheet Metal Workers Local 28 President and Business Manager Eric Meslin said. “We ask Mr. De Niro to appreciate not only the value of his union but value all the hard-working union men and women who have exemplified a long tradition of quality workmanship and unmatched skills. These very members are committed to building your state-or-the-art facility, Wildflower Studios.”
The construction is expected to be completed late next year and the campus will include 11 soundstages, 310 off-street parking spaces and a waterfront esplanade that will be open to the public.