Wednesday, July 13, 2011

New York City Construction strike postponed 1 week

A Wednesday walkout by concrete workers was pushed back at least a week as contractors and union officials agreed to keep negotiating. Big projects could still stall if progress doesn't appear.

A threatened walkout by 2,700 concrete workers was averted—at least temporarily—when their unions and the Cement League agreed Tuesday night to continue negotiations for another week. It’s the second time the two sides have extended their talks since the workers’ contract expired on June 30. Union officials said last week that the league had made a last and final offer that would amount to a pay cut for the workers, who earn about $40 an hour.

The workers had said they would strike starting Wednesday if the league, an industry association, did not improve its offer, but the eleventh-hour extension averts a strike that would have stalled work at 34 sites across the city, including, potentially, the World Trade Center memorial.

Alex Castaldi, business manager of the Cement and Concrete Workers District Council, said a bargaining session has been tentatively scheduled for Friday. He said that the workers decided to continue talks “out of sympathy for affected contractors who are not sitting on the negotiating committee and the whole situation with Ground Zero.”

With workers scrambling to get the 9/11 memorial ready in time for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, any work stoppage at the site could generate a public backlash that both sides wish to avoid. Mr. Castaldi said the unions and a separate industry association, the Long Island-based Concrete Contractors of New York, reached a tentative deal that includes unspecified wage increases. He hopes it will serve as a template for a deal with the league. Bryan Winter, executive director of the Cement League, declined to comment, saying employers preferred to conduct negotiations in private.

Wages have been the sticking point between Mr. Winter’s group and Laborers’ Locals 6a, 18a and 20 of the Cement and Concrete Workers of New York. The league’s final offer included a wage package that would, in effect, result in a 25-cents-an-hour decrease over a three-year contract, according to a union official who has knowledge of the negotiations.

The unions will not accept that, having given up a raise two years ago to help kick-start construction in the face of the downturn, and because the league agreed to 3% annual increases in a deal reached earlier this month with two operating engineers unions, the official said. International Union of Operating Engineers Local 14 made concessions on work rules in exchange for the raises; its members will hold a ratification vote Thursday.

The contractor at the World Trade Center memorial, Navillus Contracting, is not a member of the league, and a building trades source said the unions offered to continue working if Navillus agreed to sign any deal that is eventually reached with the league. Navillus did not respond to requests for comment, and it was unclear if it would have accepted that offer. Despite the potential impact on the memorial construction schedule, city officials have declined to intervene, saying the dispute is between private parties.

The last cement-related strike in the city occurred in 2008 when a walkout by a union representing hundreds of cement truck drivers brought major construction projects to a halt. There is less construction activity in the city now, especially in the residential sector, which relies heavily on concrete workers, so a strike’s impact would not be as deep.

By Daniel Massey / Crain's New York Business
July 13, 2011 12:55 p.m.