Theatre of Absurd on 57th street

By Robert Holst

I wanted to take a personal point of privilege on the page today to talk to everybody about an issue here in NYC.

It’s longer than we normally write here but I beg you to read through to the end.

When we launched this group and its Facebook page it was always our intention to be a part of the conversation where we live in Staten Island NY.

The page attracted others from around the country (as Facebook pages will do) and we are happy to have so many people that are looking to find others that believe in these issues that are important to us.

So we have become more aware of the struggle the middle class faces around the country as a result and take great pride in keeping others informed and having a space for others to talk with each other and discuss things.

But the article attached (CLICK HERE) here is something going on right in our backyard and I want to take a minute to let everyone from everywhere see what is happening and the battles that we ourselves fight where we are. I am a tradesman.

I am also lucky enough to have a union that I belong to.

Recently in NYC (which I will remind everyone is home to some of the most valuable real estate in the world) the tax abatement offered to developers in the 5 boroughs of NYC came up to be reconsidered again.

The city offers tax incentives to developers to build housing for what started out in all areas to make sure that one neighborhood would be overrun by one type of housing. So in other words there is a portion of Manhattan on 57th street called billionaires row. That’s not what we wanted.


Apartments there fetch world record prices and the person that maintains the building cannot of course afford to live there. Be that as it may tax abatements were given to developers building on billionaire’s row.

You may ask yourself why we are subsidizing places to live for billionaires and to that I will say I have no answer. Now in order to qualify for this tax abatement the city says a portion of the dwellings must be considered affordable housing. So we had the rise of the poor door in NYC.

Where the very wealthy had one way into the building and others had a separate entrance. They also were not allowed to use the amenities provided by the building to those that paid “Market Rate” for their apartment.

Now again you may ask yourself “well how the hell do we let that happen?!?” Again I would offer the answer I do not know. But indeed it has happened. Developers were able to do this by buying credits that allow them to put the affordable housing in other areas but receive the abatement on the more expensive property.

Nice when you run the show isn’t it? Now in the background what has been happening for years is that these developers have been complaining about the cost of labor in construction. They went to the building trades and asked for concessions in order to bring that price down.

The banks used that to bully the developers into asking for those concessions or risk losing funding. So concessions were made. Either through a reduction of wages or in a reduction to the amount used to provide benefits. Either way it came out of the pockets of those building the city.

But that wasn’t enough. Next construction firms were used that were not part of the building trades and did not have collective bargaining agreements with any unions to secure good wages for workers.

Now what we have learned here from that is that these “Bad Actors” in the construction industry are every as bit as bad as we thought they were. 75% of all construction fatalities come from these contractors.

Wage theft is rampant and very often those most vulnerable (undocumented workers) are used and exploited with no recourse. The unions fight back as best they can but with the very portable nature of these jobs the workers are considered “hard targets”. I have worked non-union in the trades and can attest to some of these conditions first hand. It’s not good. So now enters the city. Our “Progressive” Mayor here has made it his mission to expand the stock of affordable housing in the city.

He wanted to extend these tax abatements to developers that agreed to build affordable housing. But made no stipulations that those that built unsafe or had labor violations in the past could not continue to go about their business building more buildings. He did want to put in the language that the workers who cared for the building afterwards had to make a living wage but no mention of the workers who built it.

That’s because our “labor friendly progressive” mayor that travels the country holding himself out as someone that is a leader in the fight on wealth inequality thinks that paying a good middle class wage with good benefits is too much. Shameful.

So the people had said finally enough. They said that if you are going to use tax incentives for the purpose of creating this affordable housing that only a very tiny portion of the population will profit from (developers) we can ask for something in return.

That ask was prevailing wage on those jobs. Just like any other project that receives funding from the public purse. He would have none of it. He and his advisors (from Goldman Sachs) set about the city telling everyone it couldn’t be done. But the governor of NY finally came to his senses and agreed with the people.

The task at hand for labor and the developers was to come to an agreement on wages and benefits before the abatement would be renewed. As you can see in the article they are still some distance apart on that. It’s for one simple reason. The developers would rather forgo that credit than let the people use their government to stand up for themselves.

That’s it.

They will cut their own throats in order to make sure the people will not be heard. It is a sad state of affairs. Nobody is sure where this will go. But for working people one thing is always true. “You see a good fight? Then get in it!”

If you’ve made it this far I thank you for listening because our battles here are the battles of working folks everywhere. If we aren’t talking to each other then who will?

Please feel free to let us know what you think or send us your stories of similar nonsense going on where you are.

Thanks Again.

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