Airbnb hammers out partnership with carpenters’ union

Startup agrees to use union labor on projects if it has financial stake

Jan.January 10, 2020 04:00 PM
The agreement was signed today at UBC’s New York Council offices in Manhattan by Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb co-founder, Chief Strategy Officer, and Frank Spencer, General Vice President of UBC.
The agreement was signed today in Manhattan by Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb co-founder and chief strategy officer (right), and Frank Spencer, general vice president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.

Airbnb has partnered up with one of North America’s biggest trade unions as it deepens its foothold in real estate development.

Under the agreement, signed Friday in Manhattan, the startup agreed to use labor from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America on real estate projects in which it invests.

Strategically, the alliance is a win for Airbnb as it looks for political allies following a major loss in Jersey City last November and statehouse and City Hall struggles in New York ahead of the company’s anticipated IPO this year.

Airbnb’s lobbying in New York often runs into opposition from the Hotel Trades Council, which unlike the startup has deep roots in city and state politics. But building trades unions also have political strength here, and its deal with the carpenters could give it some bona fides with organized labor. However, the carpenters’ New York affiliate broke ranks with other construction unions in 2018 by making a deal with the Related Companies for work at Hudson Yards while the unions’ umbrella was trying to reach an agreement with Related for all of the locals. A compromise was eventually reached after much strife.

Airbnb has been working with developers, including RXR Realty, and companies such as Lyric and Zeus for some time. It is now looking to increase its involvement by investing in developments to boost the number of short- and long-term rental units nationwide.

A representative said in a statement Friday that under the partnerships, “Airbnb does not own, lease, or operate any real estate projects, but instead works with partners to ensure new developments are optimized for home sharing.”

As part of the new agreement with the carpenters, when Airbnb invests in developments, it will partner with developers committed to using contractors employing the union’s workers. The agreement guarantees a minimum of 10 projects over the next three years.

Louis Coletti, president and CEO of the Building Trades Employers’ Association, whose contractor members are heavy users of union labor, called the deal a vote of confidence. “It sends a signal that owners are looking at who can best complete the job in a timely fashion, on schedule, on budget, at a quality I expect,” he said.

It is not the first time Airbnb has hooked up with unions. In 2018 it partnered with the Australian Transport Workers’ Union to promote fair pay and better labor standards. It announced a separate pilot in Australia with cleaners’ union United Voice the following year.

Airbnb co-founder and chief strategy officer Nathan Blecharczyk said in a statement Friday that the latest agreement would create valuable work for union members. The company declined to address the political significance of the alliance.

Write to Sylvia Varnham O’Regan at [email protected]

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