The Real Deal New York

Hundreds of protesters call on NFL to boot Related’s Steve Ross from committee

After shutting down Park Avenue to traffic, 37 protesters were arrested
By Kathryn Brenzel | August 23, 2018 08:00AM

Thirty-seven protesters were arrested by NYPD officers Wednesday night for blocking Park Avenue. The protesters called on NFL to boot Related’s Steve Ross from a committee on social and racial justice. (Credit: Mike Hellstrom)

After briefly blocking traffic on Park Avenue, 37 protesters wearing T-shirts saying “Step down Steve Ross” were arrested on Wednesday and carted off in a large white police bus.

The arrests were expected — speakers repeatedly alluded to risking arrest during a rally held outside the National Football League’s headquarters in Midtown East. Hundreds of construction workers gathered at 345 Park Avenue to call on the NFL to remove Ross, chair of Related Companies and owner of the Miami Dolphins, from its social and racial justice committee.

Representatives for the New York City Police Department confirmed that 37 people had been arrested for impeding traffic but couldn’t immediately provide additional details Wednesday night. NFL representatives didn’t return messages seeking comment.

The purpose of the rally was somewhat unusual for the Building and Construction Trades Council and its “Count Me In” campaign, which organized Wednesday’s event. The group has been protesting Related’s use of nonunion labor at 50 Hudson Yards and the remainder of the western railyards. Earlier in the week, the group protested outside the New York District Council of Carpenters headquarters to challenge the union’s reported deal with Related to work on 50 Hudson Yards, a sign of potential tension among the trades.

But at the latest gathering, workers carried around cutout posters of Ross’ head with “sexism” stamped in red on his forehead, appearing below the words “Steve Ross condones.”

The posters were referring to sexual harassment allegations against employees of TradeOff, a subcontractor at 55 Hudson Yards. In a complaint filed with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employee Tierra Williams accused a foreman on the site of repeatedly exposing his genitals to her.

Gary LaBarbera, president of the BCTC, said the theme of Wednesday’s rally was connected to the group’s other events.

“It is connected to labor issues and the treatment of workers,” he told The Real Deal. “Steve Ross is aware of what’s going on at his job sites and condoning that activity.”

Joanna Rose, a spokesperson for Related, called it “ironic” that union groups are targeting Ross.

“These very same construction unions continue their dismal record of racial and sexual exclusion evidenced by decades of lawsuits that the construction unions continue to lose for their pattern of discriminatory conduct that continues today,” she said. “The BCTC does not create jobs, we do, and we look forward to more partnerships with union trades like the carpenters on the future phases of Hudson Yards.”

Rose, as well as the Real Estate Board of New York, pointed to Local 79, the construction and general building laborers, for the latest campaign against Ross. Terrence Moore, business manager for Metallic Lathers and Reinforcing Ironworkers Local 46, said during the rally that many years ago, Related tried to get his union to assume responsibilities usually designated to the carpenters’ union. The developer later asked Local 46, Moore said, to take over the general building laborers’ duties. Local 46 declined.

“We said, ‘no fucking way,'” he said.

Wednesday’s rally is the latest symptom of the escalating feud between Related and the BCTC. Earlier this year, Related filed two lawsuits against the organization and LaBarbera. One alleges that the union’s labor policies drove up costs at Hudson Yards by more than $100 million. Two weeks ago, Related announced that it had cut a deal with the carpenters’ union to expand its role at 50 Hudson Yards. The BCTC has disputed the agreement’s existence. The BCTC has been demonstrating at Hudson Yards every week since last year, potentially creating a tense moment for union carpenters working on site.

“It’s becoming a little toxic on the job sites,” Bill Walsh, a retired carpenter, said earlier this week at a separate rally in front of his union’s headquarters. “Related is a wedge between the working people.”

Joe Geiger, executive secretary treasurer of the carpenters’ union, said in a statement that some aren’t seeing the current market clearly.

“The reality is jobs across the city are being worked on by a variety of trades — union and nonunion alike,” he said. “With union opposition mounting locally and nationally — this is no time for union members to be attacking other union members.”