“There is no beef”: Contractor group says nonunion org lacks enough clout to represent NYC labor

Report takes aim at Associated Builders and Contractors

ABC Empire State Chapter's Brian Sampson and Building Trade Employers Association Lou Coletti (Credit: Associated Builders and Contractors Inc.)
ABC Empire State Chapter's Brian Sampson and Building Trade Employers Association Lou Coletti (Credit: Associated Builders and Contractors Inc.)

A Manhattan-based contractor group is taking aim at a nonunion organization, claiming it doesn’t have enough clout to be the voice of open shop labor in the city.

The Building Trades Employers’ Association commissioned a report on the New York chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors — a group that bills itself as the “voice of merit shop” (an alternative term for the use of nonunion and union labor). The report claims that only 84 of ABC’s 119 firms in the region are construction-related (meaning general contractors and subcontractors). Meanwhile, the BTEA’s 858 members are all construction-related, according to the report. It also finds that ABC doesn’t have a state-approved apprenticeship program and only has three firms that are certified as Minority- and Woman-owned Business Enterprises.

The impetus for the report comes off as somewhat territorial: the BTEA, whose members hire both union and nonunion labor (though the report states its work is mostly union), wanted to show that it’s “still the place to go” for expertise about the industry, said Lou Coletti, head of the BTEA.

The ABC’s representatives are often quoted to demonstrate the viewpoint of nonunion contractors on construction-related issues in the city. In the lead-up to the passage of a construction safety bill last year, for example, the group was a vocal opponent of the legislation, which ultimately required workers to undergo an additional 40 hours of training. ABC and union groups released dueling reports on construction-related deaths before September’s vote.

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“So, we thought: ‘Who are these people? Where’s the beef?’,” Coletti said. “The study shows there is no beef. They don’t represent anybody in New York City.”

He added, “What we found out is they are even less than a paper tiger.”

Brian Sampson, president of the Empire State Chapter of the ABC, said the report leaves out roughly 40 firms in the region who aren’t listed in their public directory. He said it’s ironic that BTEA would go the trouble of commissioning a report to prove ABC isn’t a threat.

“Clearly, we do have a voice and do have a standing because otherwise they’d pay no attention to us,” he said.
The report — funded by the Carpenter Contractor Alliance of Metropolitan New York, which represents the city’s carpenters’ union, and conducted by Rochester Research Associates — comes at a particularly heated moment between unions and developers who opt to hire nonunion labor. The Building and Construction Trades Council has been leading massive protests against Related Companies over the developer’s decision to use both union and nonunion labor on the second phase of Hudson Yards. Labor groups are also pushing for the passage of a state bill that will clarify the definition of public works, specifying for which projects workers must be paid prevailing wages.