The Leaning Tower of Pizzarotti

A developer tries to cut costs, a contractor hires non-union, and together they create a deadly, tilting money pit in New York City

The Seaside Condominiums is a 58-story high-rise project that has eschewed hiring labor unions. The project has caused one death, resulted in criminal charges against one contractor, has suffered multiple work stoppages, and is now into its fourth year of work. — Katie Warren/Business Insider 

It matters who you hire.

 

The most experienced, best quality work crews in New York City belong to its best-in-the-world construction unions. Developers who shun them do so at their own peril. Here’s just one more very expensive case study to prove that point: The Seaside Condominiums, also known as “The Leaning Tower of Pizzarotti.”

 

The 58-story high-rise condominium at 161 Maiden Lane in New York’s seaport district, and which is being put up by general contractor Pizzarotti IBC, LLC, is leaning to the north.

 

Buildings aren’t supposed to lean.

 

Pizzarotti has sued the developer on the project, Fortis Property Group, who they say caused the lean because they cut costs on a “soil improvement” method, which they say is now causing problems with the building’s structural integrity, facade, waterproofing and elevators. Fortis counters that it was the work of the concrete crews hired by Pizzarotti that is causing the lean.

 

The non-union project, which started in March 2016, and is well into its fourth year of work, is now delayed yet again.

 

But the lean is just the latest problem at the site now haunting developer Fortis and contractor Pizzarotti.

 

Here’s the laundry list of mistakes that could have been avoided had they gone union.

But unions weren't hired to build Seaside, and now the condo investors are wondering when their non-union building will be finished and whether or not it will keep leaning north. New York City demands better than that.

  • Pizzarotti, an Italy-based contract firm, hired the non-union cement shop SSC High Rise Construction to erect the building super-structure and pour its floor molds.

 

  • In September 2017, 43-year-old Juan Chonillo, construction worker for SSC and father of five, fell 29 floors to his death at the Seaport construction site. Cyrus Vance, Jr., Manhattan District Attorney, said the accident was the result of SSC skirting the city’s safety regulations. SSC, which has also pleaded guilty to stealing wages from non-union workers and bilking the city of hundreds of thousands in taxes, has also pleaded guilty to man-slaughter charges in the case of Mr. Chonillo. After the death, the Department of Building issued a stop work order until the safety concerns were addressed.

 

  • On Feb. 15, 2018, a crane slammed a concrete bucket into the 34th floor, dropped material onto the street below, and damaged a large part of the floor’s deck. The DOB issued another stop work order, which lasted over 9 weeks.

 

  • Developer Fortis has cited problems with the pouring of concrete slabs for the floors, which they contain has caused the leaning problem. Pizzarotti replaced the concrete subcontractor SSC with RC Structures, who asserted that there are “structural issues” causing the building to lean three inches to the north.

All of these stoppages and cost overruns, even the worker’s death, could have been avoided, if you believe Jim Mahoney, Business Manager of the Metal Lathers and Ironworkers Local 46 union.

 

The Seaside condos could be an omen of what faces New York City’s construction integrity as many contractors hire non-union shops believing they're saving money. But evidence suggests that much of that saving comes from bilking workers. SSC’s wage theft guilty plea is evidence of that.

 

It's also apparent that non-union shops may gain savings by cutting corners on safety. SSC’s guilty plea to man-slaughter for the death of Mr. Chonillo is an admission of such.

 

On the other hand, unions prioritize fair wages, a safe workplace, and the best quality standards.

 

But unions weren't hired to build Seaside, and now the condo investors are wondering when their non-union building will be finished and whether or not it will keep leaning north. New York City demands better than that.

Juan Chonillo, 43, who died from a fall at the construction site. The contractor pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the case. – New York Daily News

The damaged deck of the 34th floor at 161 Maiden Lane after a crane slammed into it. – The Real Deal

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