New York Daily News

Pending Projects Hammered by Protest


Daily News Staff Writer


The massive protest by city construction unions shut down more than 200 building projects yesterday as workers flexed their muscles in a way that New York hasn't seen in years.

"All anybody got done today was cleanup work," said Louis Colletti, head of the Building Trades Employers Association, which endorsed the rally against public contracts awarded to nonunion firms.

While none of the protesters were paid for the day, employeemployers still lost a day's productivity, having an untold economic impact.

The traffic-snarling protest outside the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Madison Ave. headquarters was the biggest construction workers event since a 1990 City Hall rally to press for construction funding, officials said.

Several observers said it was the largest show of force by construction labor since a 1970 pro-war march in which hardhats tangled with anti-war protesters.

Union officials said the push for holding a morning rush-hour rally instead of a more traditional lunchtime demonstration came from younger, more militant voices in the traditionally conservative building trades movement.

"They are a new driving force in the building trades council," said one trade union official.

Union officials said earlier demonstrations - including a 5,000-member rally last month - against Roy Kay Inc., the nonunion contractor hired by the MTA, got little notice.

"We wanted to make the biggest statement possible," said Paul Fernandes of the Building & Construction Trades Council.

Organizers said word of yesterday's rally was spread to the city's 100,000 construction union members by job-site organizers, flyers and telephone. "Word went out to every job site and every union member," said Mike Hellstrom of Laborers Local 79.

Local 79 has been seen as a spark plug for recent efforts. The local was created in 1996 as an amalgam of 10 Laborers union locals as part of an anti-corruption push by the Laborers International Union, which was accused of mob ties by federal authorities.

The local has demonstrated at dozens of nonunion construction sites in the last two years.

"People want to think the labor movement is dead. We think differently," said Hellstrom.

He said that in challenging the MTA, labor was taking a page from Wall Street.

"It's all about market share. It's a question of how much of the labor market will be controlled by decent union contracts," he said.

* NOTE *

I cannot disagree more strongly with the last two paragraphs by Mike Hellstrom. Business Agents who control unions and own non-union contracting firms like him may wish to "share" the construction market between scab contractors and unions but construction workers know that this strategy means a race to the bottom for them and their families. That is why Hellstrom and his kind were pushed to the side when they refused to lead their own unions and march on to the scab construction site.

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