Construction unions reconsider affordable housing stance

Building trades look to cooperate with de Blasio as their market share tumbles
August 28, 2014 01:50PM

A decade ago, the Building and Construction Trades Councils did not have a lot of interest in working on New York City affordable housing projects. Developers found little reason to pay higher union wages to construct housing units at below-market prices, and the unions were likewise more keen on higher-paying luxury residential projects and commercial high-rises.

But now, as the building trades have suffered a loss of membership, lost market share and seen their influence in the construction sector wane, union interest in the affordable sector is growing. And the de Blasio administration is pushing for their involvement.

“We always look for every opportunity to work with union labor,” de Blasio said back in early May, when he formally unveiled his comprehensive affordable housing plan. “We are also trying to create affordable housing with real tight financial dynamics, and our job is to create it on an unprecedented level. So it really will take a lot of cooperation and creativity in that relationship, but I think we’ve signaled to the building trades that we want to maximize their involvement.”

In August, the Building Trades announced that it would join activists calling for 50 percent of all new housing to be set aside for lower- and middle-income residents. The union also indicated its members would accept wages 40 percent lower than usual union pay on affordable housing projects.

Still, a substantial shift will ultimately boil down to simple economics, experts told City & State.

“What we have happening in New York City is that those trades that have made changes to be competitive, if their contractors are awarded that work and it’s a nonunion job, they’re going to work, and that’s a huge change in the New York City construction market,” Louis Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers’ Association, Gotham’s biggest trade organization representing contractors, told the news site. “Unless we find a way to continue making changes in those markets, the BTEA contractors will find ways to compete in those markets, because we have a responsibility to those employees, to those stockholders, to keep our businesses viable. We want to do that by building union for all trades.” [City & State]Julie Strickland