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Let Unions Convert the Flatiron to Condos

Because non-union’s condo-conversion record in New York is downright awful.


The Flatiron building is an icon of early 20th Century New York City architecture. Once dismissed, it eventually became so loved the entire neighborhood has taken on its name.

The new owners of the Flatiron building — that triangular icon on 23rd, Fifth, and Broadway — announced their plan to convert that storied structure from office space to luxury condos. We have some advice for them: hire unions.


The Flatiron is owned by the Brodsky Organization, a residential developer with upwards of 25  properties in Manhattan and Brooklyn. With that kind of experience here, they don’t need us to tell them about the dangers of hiring non-union contractors to do your remodel. But at Union Built Matters we are nothing if not thorough, so here’s our argument to Brodsky to hire unions for that important job.


How Important is a Flatiron Condo Reno?

Yes, this will be a very important job. Many of Manhattan’s office buildings remain under-occupied or even downright empty after the pandemic convinced certain workers they were better off doing their jobs mostly or entirely from their homes. In fact, other than its main floor, the Flatiron building has been empty of business tenants ever since Macmillan Publishers left their lease just before the pandemic. 


With housing being what it is in New York, there has been a lot of talk in the real estate business about the plusses and minuses of converting some of that empty office space into residences. And city governments are even weighing in with the promise of big money to help start such a transition. So when Brodsky announced it would be making luxury condos out of the building so iconic it has a featured display at the Met, the world’s ears perked up. We will all be watching to see how this remodel goes.

As an iconic NYC building converts from office space to condos, the world is watching, because we all have a lot at stake. It's important the developers get this right. 

Why Unions

There are a lot of reasons why Brodsky should employ unions for this remodel. The most obvious are: Unions do better work and they do it faster. A recent report released by Cornell University on the subject of union vs. non-union costs and quality stated, “…empirical research on the construction industry consistently finds that union contractors outperform non-union contractors on numerous measures of work quality and productivity.” Want the job done well and on time? Hire unions.


Union builders also do their jobs more affordably than non-union shops. We now have two separate deeply researched reports that reach that same conclusion. Reports from both Cornell University and the research organization Project Evaluation Systems conclude that due to a host of causes that include corner-cutting, poor workmanship, mis-classification of labor, work delays, and increased violations, non-union contractors end up costing developers significantly more money than union shops. So, want the job done on budget, hire unions.


The building was designed to fill an oddly shaped block formed by Fifth Avenue, Broadway, 22nd and 23rd Streets. The facade is adorned with classic Greek columns, arched window openings and a curved window on the building's 23rd Street "point."


Why to Avoid Non-Unions

Well, Brodsky, if those pros aren’t enough to sway you in favor of hiring unions, then consider these non-union cons. There are so many of them. Here’s an abbreviated list of buildings that have made the attempt to go from one function (business, hotel, etc) to residential, but because the developer hired non-union labor to do it, they ran into major problems.

And here is the short list of recent new condo constructions that have run aground because developers hired non-union builders to do it. 

Designers will be challenged by a famously awkward floorplan. Above is the standard structure of most of the Flatiron's business floors - now unoccupied.

The Time for Unions is Now

Like most large cities of the world, the post-pandemic reality has caused New York to look hard at the future of its ample building office space. While New York is not in the same office glut bind as some other cities, like San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, and Atlanta, where downtowns have been described as ghost towns. But it’s clear we are at a turning point. 


If New York is about to begin a host of office-space-to-condo conversions, then let’s use these important early projects like the Flatiron to set the standards for the remodels that will follow. Yes, that burdens Brodsky with the unfair responsibility of setting a very important standard for the industry. But if Brodsky delivers the new Flatiron condos in high quality, on time, and on budget, they will have set the perfect remodel prototype. And the best way to ensure those results is to hire unions.

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