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Unions Lift Non-union Workers

NYC Construction unions offer a hand to qualified non-union laborers.


NYC construction unions offer workers a pathway to safety, dignity and security by recruiting the best from the non-union workforce.

We spend a lot of time on Union-Built Matters bringing you stories about the shoddy, incompetent work done by some non-union contractors. We relate these tales because we believe many open-shop contractors focus entirely too much on cost-cutting and profit-making and not nearly enough on safety and quality construction. Their prioritization of profit over people has had a very detrimental effect on our city in many ways.


Our beef has never been with the hardworking non-union men and women who are exploited by their managers. We recognize that many workers hired by open-shops are here from other countries, either fleeing hardship or seeking opportunity, or both. Others are citizens with a skill, trying to make a living. For most of them, construction work is a way to support themselves and possibly a family. Their labor is respected.


Our complaint is with their managers who place their own profit above the safety of those workers, who cut corners on materials and training to increase their own take, who play loose with the rules because rule following costs them money. The people who pay the greatest price for all of these management sins are the unrepresented, often undocumented, workers.


Data, as well as common sense, confirms that workers who feel safe and respected perform more efficiently.

NYC construction unions share this view: they respect the labor and deplore the exploitation. Perhaps unbeknownst to many New Yorkers, unions have outreach programs that help the most-talented non-union workers find their way into a construction union. 


One such recruiter/organizer for the New York Carpenters Union told Union-Built Matters that he was “constantly meeting construction people, talking with good workers who were in a bad way working for unscrupulous bosses.” That organizer successfully recruited many workers into the carpenters union. “Sometimes we need to help them with their status here, like help them get their brith certificate from home, complete all their filings on time, get them registered to pay taxes, that sort of thing. Many times, because you’re dealing with paperwork from a foreign country and such, this type of work can be very challenging,” he said, “but also very, very rewarding.”


One carpenter who was recruited by this organizer into the carpenters union, Luis Muñoz, said, “The difference now, being in the union, is night and day. I have benefits. I have safety. I have a life. I have a future.”


Alex Martinez, Walter Martinez, and José Rosas lost their jobs at Alba Demolition after management witnessed them talking to organizers from the Construction and General Building Laborers’ Union Local 79, Their story is detailed in The Real New Network.   -- Photo by Maximillian Alvarez.

Like the carpenters, New York City’s Construction and General Building Laborers’ Union Local 79 has been making efforts to recruit good non-union workers. In an eye-opening interview by The Real News Network, TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez speaks with three men who were fired from their jobs at Alba Demolition after they were caught talking to Local 79 organizers. 


According to the TRNN story,“Organizers and members of Local 79 have been working to be supportive allies, fighting to ensure that undocumented workers who were ineligible for government COVID aid programs received the assistance they needed, and fighting to protect the rights and jobs of non-union construction and demolition workers in the city who are being exploited and mistreated by notoriously anti-union, corner-cutting companies like Alba Demolition.” 


As journalist and Real News contributor Ashley Bishop reported for The Nation: “Former Alba workers who have since joined Local 79 allege that workplace accidents occur more frequently at Alba-run sites because the company’s workers are typically less experienced, new hires are not provided with proper training, and more seasoned workers are frequently asked to perform jobs outside of their area of expertise. ‘There’s a few companies out there that are operating in the nonunion sector,’ said Chaz Rynkiewicz, vice president and director of organizing for Local 79. ‘Alba, currently, is the biggest exploiter of workers in the demolition industry in New York City.’”


For a good look at what it’s like to work inside an open-shop in this city, read the full transcript of the TRNN interview.


New York construction unions offer help to qualified non-union workers who are tired of being exploited and ripped off. The union recruiter echoed Mr. Muñoz. “A lot of the times the open-shops employ people off the books. Or they don’t want to train them. Very few of them seem to have any health benefits. So when we see talent there, we want those people in a union. When you have people working productively, safely, able to take care of their families with benefits, paying taxes into the public system, that’s just good for all of us.”

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