By Robert Holst
I am writing this letter in regards to your recent comments about the 421a tax abatements for developers wishing to build affordable housing units in NYC.
I am a tradesman in NYC and I am raising my family in Staten Island. I believe NYC is a fine place to live and have decided to continue to stay and raise my family. This city has been a place I can call home, because I am a proud union member as my father before me and his father before him.
Three generations that have lived in this city and while not perhaps men of influence, we are all certainly part of its fabric and in the case of my father and I part of its construction. I am a member of The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union #3. It is because of this union that I have been able to provide for my family.
That’s not to say that people who are not members of unions have not been able to live and work in this city. But for people like me it does.
I did not want a career in high finance, nor did I want to be a surgeon. I wanted to be an electrician. An honest living and as my grandfather used to say “The world needs people that make a days pay with their sweat.”
But as many will testify the ability to make a days pay and remain in this city is becoming increasingly difficult. I am not pleading a hardship because I’ve been very lucky in my life.
I married a good woman and the roof doesn’t leak. Which I am thankful for, but while the chances of my wife at this point ceasing to be a good woman is not likely, one thing is for sure. The roof is going to start leaking and when it does, things can go downhill fast. You see the old adage that reminds us to save for a rainy day is great. But down here its always raining and we don’t save up.
Which brings me to the point of this letter. My wages that you seem to consider as profit are in real danger of going in the opposite direction of up. There will be no tax abatements for me. There will be no subsidies or incentives. Milk isn’t getting cheaper and water seems to be becoming a commodity.
When I heard you campaigning you seemed at that time to get it. You really seemed like you understood that the system threw the working class overboard about 35 years ago. When prevailing wage laws were established it was to make sure that the city would not be a party to the race to the bottom. It was to ensure that the city would help sustain the level of wages and benefits that sustain its residents.
As I am sure you know already my union has been a party to agreements that has made concessions in regards to wages and benefits. One most notably was the tower built on 57th street. One57. While we as the working class made these concessions to facilitate the project for those developers the city also gave them concessions in the form of a 421a tax abatement.
So now while wealthy investors have reaped the benefits of paying people less they have also reaped the benefits of the taxes these same working people pay. In the article you go on to say that “It’s well known” that you are a supporter of union labor.
A supporter of union labor would recognize the value of a collective bargaining agreement. A union supporter would also recognize that at this current time the prevailing wage in this city is the same wage as the wage in those collective bargaining agreements for each respective trade.
A supporter of union labor in my opinion would also not look to give public money to a private project and then undermine those same wages. You see Mr. deBlasio I am fine with creating housing for working people. God knows we need more of them to take up residence here.
This city needs them. But if those same affordable units are to be built without being “based on profit” I would suggest we look at those who stand to profit. Again I will remind you my wages are not profit. They are the result of many years of training. They are the result of me being productive and efficient. They are the results of my labor. I will not say to you that your administration should take the stance of dictating profit margins.
But in that same vein your administration should not be using the money that working people have given over to the city (as a result of their labor) in good faith to fatten those same profit margins. Your idea to ask for prevailing wages for building workers but not the people who build the building is not being supportive of union labor. It is creating a divide within labor. It is saying I support union labor. I just don’t support all-union labor.
From where I sit you can understand my feeling that perhaps if this “sacred mission” were so sacred you would be asking everyone to consider making this mission a reality by kicking in a bit. Either you support union labor or you do not. There is no in between. There is no I support union labor only at a reduction. If that is the case you do not support union labor at all. You can understand how I might feel that without saying to developers “that in order to do this you are going to have to forgo your tax abatements unless you pay the prevailing wages in the area.”
That you may support the developers a little bit more. Again sir that’s fine. But do not say you support union labor. Say, “I want to make this attractive to developers and I will give them public money and ask for nothing in return.” Say that you will not really address the gap in wealth between the very wealthy and everyone else. Say you will merely apply a Band-Aid and appeal to voters. That might all sound cynical Mr. Mayor but I am sure that you can see how it looks that way from where I sit.
Mr. Mayor try to understand that as a kid I grew up around the corner in an apartment building from where your house is now in Park Slope. At that time the poor door for that building was the front one. I know the value of an affordable place to live. But what I am not so sure of is how good I feel about helping to install that poor door knowing I also helped pay for it.