The Real Deal New York

Building Trades sues Alma Realty for allegedly backing out of agreement to use union labor

Developer promised to negotiate a project labor agreement
By Kathryn Brenzel | June 13, 2017 05:00PM

Astoria Cove (Credit: Studio V Architecture) (inset: Gary LaBarbera)

The Building and Construction Trades Council is going after Alma Realty TRData LogoTINY for allegedly sidestepping its promise to hire union labor on its Astoria Cove megaproject.

The union group filed a lawsuit against the developer in New York Federal Court on Monday, alleging that Alma has failed to negotiate a project labor agreement for the planned 2.2 million-square-foot, mixed-use development. According to the lawsuit, Alma agreed in November 2015 — as part of the negotiations leading up to the City Council’s approval of the project — to hire members of the BCTC for Astoria Cove. In exchange, the group agreed to support the development.

The lawsuit cites permits issued for demolition and plumbing work, as well as the installation of a sidewalk shed as evidence that the developer has embarked on construction work without inking a deal with union laborers. According to the lawsuit, Alma explained to the BCTC that the city’s Department of Buildings ordered the emergency demolition of a one-story building on the site. The union group maintains that construction continued at the site even after Alma assured BCTC that the company still planned to negotiate a project labor agreement.

A spokesperson for Alma referred to the lawsuit as frivolous and “without merit.”

“No physical work has been done for the Astoria Cove project,” the spokesperson said in an email. “The only activity at the site was an emergency demolition order mandated by the city. The emergency work that was ordered is in full compliance and has all relevant approvals.”

The project has been stalled for some time. Most recently, Alma blamed the lapse of the 421a tax break for its inability to move forward on the project, but Politico reported in July that shaky financials were likely the real reason for the delays. Alma started marketing the property in April for $350 million, citing the pending return of 421a.

It’s unclear how a sale of the waterfront property would impact the lawsuit or the agreement to use union labor. But if the project receives the tax exemption, the developer — whoever that ultimately may be — will need to either ink a project labor agreement or pay construction workers an average of $45 per hour, as required under 421a’s successor, Affordable New York.