Volume 17 • Issue 16 | SEPTEMBER 10 - 16, 2004

Downtown Express photo by R.M. Schneiderman

Pedestrians pass by a union demonstration on Exchange Pl. near the building at 25 Broad St., right.

Union-developer dispute draws anger from residents

By R.M. Schneiderman

On the corner of Broad St. and Exchange Pl. in the Financial District, the din of blaring whistles and metal banging against metal fill the air. Gravely voiced protesters chant “Scabs! Scabs! Scabs!” from inside a metal pen, while a woman leaving her residence counters: “Obnoxious! Keep it down!”

These are the sounds that have echoed down Broad St. since June as various union workers have continued protesting against the use of non-union workers on a renovation project on the corner Wall and Broad Sts. for the fourth straight month last week.

Local residents have been complaining about the noise and some have even decided to move away.

“We’re hearing from every tenant and they’re furious,” said a spokesperson for the Exchange, an apartment building on 25 Broad St.

“Most people in the building are probably going to move,” said Denise Samson, a tenant.

Yet negotiations between the Building Construction Trades Council, the organizer of the demonstrations, and the building’s developer, Shaya Boymelgreen, have been non-existent according to the union.

“To sum it up, we’re willing to sit down and see if we can iron out our differences,” said Ed Malloy, the union’s president.

Malloy added that although neither side has changed its position, Shaya Boymelgreen did tell Bobby Ledwith, union vice president, to let things “cool down for September” and that negotiations could be worked out in October.

Boymelgreen, a prominent real estate developer who is partial owner of A.I. & Boymelgreen, a joint venture of Africa Israel Investments and Boymelgreen Developers, did not respond to calls for comment.

A.I. & Boymelgreen purchased the two buildings, both of which were formerly part of the Morgan Guaranty Trust Company, the forerunner of J.P. Morgan Chase & Company, for $100 million last year, according to the New York Times. Boymelgreen told the Times that he is spending about $135 million on renovations and that prices for the 326 units (85 percent of the investment space) will range from about $335,000 for a studio to $3.5 million for a three-bedroom apartment. The Jerusalem Post reported that Africa Israel Investments owns 65 percent of the building, compared to 35 percent by Boymelgreen Developments.

The protesters, a crew of men and women who include plumbers, electricians and sheet metal workers among others, have come together everyday at lunch for the past four months to protest against Boymelgreen and his business partner, Africa-Israel Investments chief shareholder and diamond tycoon, Lev Leviev, because they say they are hiring non-union workers at substandard wages to renovate the buildings on 23 Wall St. and 15 Broad St.

“We believe that the developers and architect [Ismael Leyva] are lowering the standard of living in the greatest city in the world,” said Kevin Kelly, a business agent for the Local 46 Metallic Lathers and Reinforcing Ironworkers union. “They are doing that by undercutting the area’s wages, benefits, and conditions.”

On occasion, demonstrators have placed a red-eyed rat with a gaping maw next to Federal Hall National Hall on 26 Wall St., bearing the name of the developers, the designer and/or the architect of the building. On last Thursday the sign read: “ Phillip Starck [the designer]: 1 bedroom, 1.35 million; 2 bedroom, 2.095 million; 3 bedroom, 2.785 million; How we exploit workers, priceless.”

In early August, the protesters began holding daylong rallies on Exchange Pl., which runs perpendicular to Broad St. Terry Moore, a business agent for the Local 46 Metallic Lathers and Reinforcing Ironworkers union, said attendance often numbers in the hundreds, but added that in coming weeks only the lunchtime rallies will draw large crowds because many union tradesman need to return to work.

Citing the state of heightened alert around the New York Stock Exchange as well as conflicts between protesters and non-union workers, the police department created a makeshift pen made out of individual metal gates for the demonstrators in front of 25 Broad St.

“There were some conflicts,” said Rick Lee, a community affairs officer from the First Precinct. “Basically, anything on Exchange Place is a security factor for the Stock Exchange.”

Since the pen opened up in front of their building, tenants of 25 Broad St. say they have become more enraged.

“It’s daily noise and disruption,” said Kathy Burke, a resident of The Exchange. “It’s chaotic and slightly intimidating as well. I’m considering moving out in December.”

However, some residents like Jonathon Niles are staying put. “It’s only during the day you know. It’s only affecting the people that don’t work.”

A spokesperson for 25 Broad agreed with the tenants and said it is unjust that residents of The Exchange, not the developers of 23 Wall/15 Broad, are the ones being inconvenienced. “They’re [the tenants] are intimidated to go outside. They have children,” she said. “And the noise is just incredible,” she said.

She added the representatives of the building have spoken to the local community board as well as the police but that nothing has come of it.

Malloy said he sympathizes with residents of 25 Broad St. and that he would rather picket out front of the actual construction site. “I spoke to Bruce Menin [one of the developers of 25 Broad Street] and I told him that we didn’t put our people out there,” he said. “We were on one corner where the job was and the police put us out in front of 25 Broad.”

Nonetheless, Moore said they will continue the lunchtime rallies and will not stop demonstrating until their demands are met. “The area over the next week is on high alert. The neighbors don’t want us around. But you know what, we’re not going anywhere,” said Moore. “Union tradesman out here are concerned about the future.”

Malloy said the protests began in June after Boymelgreen began employing both union and non-union workers: “He wanted to bring in people for vertical hoisting. He wanted to pick and choose.”

Although many of the protesters never worked on the job, they said they came out to fight for the principle of the matter.

“It’s not just about this job, “ said Elfren Reinaldo Torres, an organizer for the local Union 28 Sheet Metal Workers. “We are faced with a situation that could end our careers.”

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