Construction laborers, union members, community leaders, and elected officials rallied outside Edgemere Commons on Beach Channel Drive in Far Rockaway, Queens, on Jan. 25, demanding the removal of Joy Construction as the general contractor for the mega development that consists of 11 buildings and 2,050 affordable and middle-income apartments.
Laborers Local 79, which represents 10,000 construction workers in New York City, organized the rally after Joy Construction allegedly failed to report that a construction worker had been injured on site after being struck in the knee on Dec. 23 by splintered wood. The injury came at a time amid growing concerns that the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) did not vet Joy Construction properly.
Since 2004, six workers have died on construction sites tied to Joy Construction and the firm’s principal, Eli Weiss, according to published reports. In December 2022, Lindon Samuel, an immigrant worker from St. Croix, was killed when he was hit in the head by an excavator bucket at a construction site contracted to Joy Construction. According to Local 79, the company, which has a habit of only hiring non-union workers at low wages without any health or retirement benefits, has benefited from hundreds of millions of subsidies in the past two decades.
City Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers, who chairs the City Council’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, called it unacceptable that a company with an “unfortunate track record” like Joy Construction didn’t show concern for its workers and reiterated that the company had to be taken off the project.
“With projects like this, it is critically important to make sure that we have black and brown businesses taking part in these contract opportunities, that people from our community that look like us are getting good jobs and not just making minimum wage,” Brooks-Powers said. “We want to make sure people in [zip codes] 11691, 2 and 3 are working on this project. We want to make sure that the people on this project, that their lives are being taken into account, that they’re making it home to their families because they know they’re coming into a safe work environment.”
Rockaway resident Justice Favor, director of Strategic Partnerships at Greater New York LECET and member of Local 79, added that Brooks-Powers had been labor’s steadfast partner since she took office.
“[Brooks-Powers] has been holding these developers and these contractors accountable. She has committed to that,” Favor said.
Assemblymember Stacey Pheffer Amato said that failure to report an injury was “not going to happen on her watch.”
Pheffer Amato shared the story of a local minority women-owned business on the Peninsula whose business was shut down for two months by the Buildings Department for a minor violation while, despite the violation, it was still business as usual at the construction site behind her.
“So for the city of New York, it [shouldn’t] matter if you’re big or small. It’s got to be an equitable distribution,” Pheffer Amato said. “If we don’t pay our fines, all of us here are just working folks, things happen to us.”
Assemblymember Khaleel Anderson pointed out that Far Rockaway had one of the highest unemployment rates in New York City.
“This job can be hiring locals: people who are certified, people who are ready to go to work. We are not asking for a handout; we are asking for a hand-up,” Anderson said. “So our demands today are clear. We want Joy off, and we want the community in.”
Favor, the resident and union member, pointed out that the Peninsula has historically been plagued with inequities and hardships. Edgemere Commons, a 10-14-year construction project, could employ locals with livable wages for the duration of the project and shatter “generational curses,” Favor said. “As a local 79 member, we are talking about transforming the lives of people that have historically been marginalized.”
State Sen. James Sanders Jr. told QNS he would investigate whether Joy Construction received money from the state or the city. If so, he would look into what the company is mandated to do—in terms of wage requirements—in order to quality for it.
“Under those conditions, I’m going to say, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute. Don’t we have living wage requirements tied to our money?’ And I know that we have because I voted for them every time, and if there are, if they found some loophole, then we have to close them,” Sanders explained. “I want to make sure that these workers A) come from [Rockaway] and B) earn enough that they can get out of here, leave the housing development.”
Jeanine Latimer-Henderson, who has been a Laborers Local 79 member for 23 years, said it was a shame Joy Construction is not hiring union workers. She did, however, say that she is lucky to be part of the union.
“I was fortunate enough, I was wandering into one of the first classes that they ever had that went union in the Rockaways,” Latimer-Henderson recalled. “I was able to support my children without any worry, you know, we got decent benefits. [The union] did a lot for me. I’m in the process of trying to actually get a home.”
Latimer-Henderson lives in Ocean Bay Apartments, across from the construction site.
“This would be a perfect opportunity to just come across the street and work, but they’re not trying to hire us, and they’re not trying to pay the people the proper wages,” Latimer-Henderson said.
Joy Construction was not immediately available for comment.