Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
Laborers at the World Trade Center walked off the site Tuesday for the second day amid contract negotiations. Nearly 200 cement workers, whose contracts expired on July 1, were joined Tuesday by carpenters at the World Trade Center site and other cement workers from around the city.
“They want to take 20 percent from us, and we pretty much earn every dollar we work for, and we put our lives on the line every single day,” said 36-year-old concrete worker Bobby, who declined to give his last name. “And they want to take that away. For what? So other people can get their pockets a little bigger? It’s not right.”
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey owns the property of the World Trade Center site. Cement workers negotiate their contracts with an organization called The Cement League, which is made up of cement contractors, including those hired to provide cement work at the World Trade Center site.
Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said the work stoppage will have minimal impact on the work at One World Trade Center or the other structures on the site, the transit hub and the 9/11 Memorial, which is slated to open by the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks in September.
But the concrete workers said One World Trade Center construction could be affected as soon as Friday or early next week if construction workers aren’t back on site.
“We do about 50-60 percent of the building. Without putting up the concrete they can only do so much work, and everything’s got to come to a halt,” said Bobby, 36 from Brooklyn.
Workers stood outside of the PATH station Tuesday at one of the entrances to the World Trade Center site. Many said they’re not officially on strike, but foreman ordered them to punch in and then punch out Tuesday. Other workers called in sick or used vacation days, calling Tuesday a “silent strike.”
The Concrete Workers District Council’s members have been without a contract since July 1. The Council said their workers earn about $37.80 an hour, the lowest paid of all the building trades. Workers also complained about not receiving regular overtime pay. Many said they would accept a pay freeze, but not a 20 percent cut in pay.
Bobby, the concrete worker, said that the economy is already bad enough, and that most people need the work. “I just hope it won’t last that long, we all have families at home, we all have kids to feed. So, let’s all hope we can get back to work and get his resolved as quick as possible,” he said.
Louis Coletti, the president and CEO of the Building Trades Employers Association, said as a result of the walk-off 600 people from other trades were laid off Monday. He admonished workers for using what he called an important landmark for leverage. “The World Trade Center projects should not be held as a bargaining chip in these negotiations,” Coletti said.
Irish-born Sean Gerhehty, 47, a concrete worker from Westchester who has been a union worker for 28 years, said the strike is about getting fair pay and setting a precedent. “If they do a 20 percent pay cut, who knows what happens after that. I think that could be the end of the unions,” he said.