Spruce School parents protest as union pickets near classrooms

Union picket near Spruce Street School on Nov. 15 , a few days before First Precinct Captain Timoney said he would not allow bullhorns to be used. Downtown Express photo by Sam Spokony

Union picket line near Spruce Street School on Nov. 15 , a few days before First Precinct Captain Timoney said he would not allow bullhorns to be used. Downtown Express photo by Sam Spokony

BY SAM SPOKONY   |  ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED NOV. 26, 2013  |  Union workers are making their voices heard outside Spruce Street School in a protest over the construction of a new Pace University dormitory — but some parents and residents want them to keep the noise down.

Construction on the new 33 Beekman St. dorm — a 30-story building that will include around 380 student housing units — began in June, according to a spokesperson for the Naftali Group, which owns the site.

Since then, labor unions have demonstrated next to the work site to protest the fact that non-union workers were hired for the job, while also condemning Casino Development Group, the organization that was hired to construct the building, for allegedly not providing fair wages and benefits to its employees.

The union members currently hold their rallies every weekday — from 1-3 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, and 8-10 a.m. on Friday, according to a protester — while chanting and marching along the sidewalk on the north side of Beekman St., near its intersection with William St.

Some parents of students at the Spruce Street School, which sits on the same block, are angry about the loud volume of the protests, saying it disrupts classes and frightens the children while they’re entering or leaving the school building.

“They just don’t care about us,” said Sarah Sakar, whose daughter is a fourth grader at the school. “I understand what the union is saying, and they have the right to protest, but this is infringing on the kids’ ability to learn. We just want them to stop the noise.”

A representative of the Spruce Street School declined to comment.

One of the union members at the site explained that he feels for the angry parents, but stressed that he and his fellow protesters are more focused on making their point.

“We don’t mean to upset the locals,” said Eoin Daly, 42, a carpenter who immigrated to New York from Ireland, and who also has three kids of his own. “But in order to get the point across, we have to picket and we have to make noise, because if you don’t make some noise, people don’t listen.”

Paul Hovitz, a member of Community Board 1, expressed concerns about the fact that the protests are also just outside New York Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital (formerly known as Downtown Hospital).

“It’s causing patients, doctors and hospital staff to be disturbed while they try to work,” said Hovitz.

A representative of the hospital declined to comment.

At the First Precinct’s Community Council meeting on Nov. 19, Sakar and several other locals raised the issue with police.

Captain Brendan Timoney, who heads the precinct, said that he has met with union leaders to discuss the matter — the current protest schedule was a result of talks with police — but explained that basically nothing can be done, from a legal standpoint, to quiet the shouting or to force the demonstrators to move, since the protests involve constitutionally protected rights to free speech.

“We were able to persuade [the union members] to stop blowing whistles,” said Timoney, “but aside from that, there’s really not much you can do.”

However, when Timoney was informed that the protesters were using a bullhorn at a recent rally, he said that activity would have to be stopped, since a sound permit is required for any amplified noise in a public place.

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4 Responses to Spruce School parents protest as union pickets near classrooms

  1. Thanks for posting this. I am a parent of a child at Spruce Street. The protest is obnoxious. It’s beyond frustrating the city can’t do anything about it. It’s like the union workers get a free pass to be thugs. I can’t get Margaret Chin or her deputies to call me back about this and 311 is useless. I thought free speech was free until it infringed on others?

  2. Chris – I'm a union carpenter. How exactly are my brothers and sisters and I "thugs"? Because we're exercising our democratic right to protest against contractors that underpay our non union fellow tradesmen? That sounds more like "altruism" to me – because we're standing up on behalf of others less fortunate for ourselves. Dude, we live in a DEMOCRACY and we have the right to protest.

  3. anthonybelisarioLU926

    I am a union carpenter as well and I have picketed at 33 beekman st…we are there to better the trades…are you american do you support america do you want Mexicans and other imogrints coming here and taking work from Americans no its our right to be there and we will stay there until they better that site

  4. Keep up the load protest my fellow union brothers & sisters. I live across the street & work midnight shift. And am proud you are there. Don’t listen to these fools complaining. These were same idiots, who had no problem with Occupy Wall St. That was ok ? But hard working people looking for a fair shake are ” thugs”. They should take kids down & explain to them what is going on. This way maybe, just maybe. We have a shot in future!

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