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Essex Crossing Developers Highlight Labor Agreement; Still No Decision on Hiring Union Construction Workers

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Essex Crossing Site 2; view from the intersection of Delancey and Essex streets. Credit: Handel Architects.
Essex Crossing Site 2; view from the intersection of Delancey and Essex streets. Credit: Handel Architects.

Crain’s posted a story overnight that touts the use of union labor in Essex Crossing, once the large residential and commercial complex on the former Seward Park urban renewal site is finished. Here’s how the piece leads off:

The developers of Essex Crossing, the massive mixed-use project planned for the Lower East Side, have agreed to staff the complex entirely with union workers, the firms announced Wednesday. BFC Partners, L+M Development Partners and Taconic Investment Partners have inked an agreement with powerful building workers’ union 32BJ SEIU for up to 80 jobs that will eventually be part of the 1,000-unit development. The first phase of the project, where half the units will be affordable, is set to begin this summer. The partnership will also help fund a training program designed to equip area residents with the know-how to apply for many of the posts being offered before the development is completed—a move that the union called the first of its kind.

The union deal complements a larger hiring agreement solidified many months ago following negotiations with the Lower East Side Employment Network and the city.  At the end of the article, Crain’s mentions that no decisions have been made about whether to use union labor to build Essex Crossing. During community meetings, representatives from the development team have pointed out that their contract with the city does not require the hiring of union construction workers. They have acknowledged, however, that conversations have been ongoing with a variety of trade unions. The story in Crain’s noted:

(W)hen development projects have a considerable affordable-housing component—half of Essex Crossing’s units will be considered affordable—developers typically opt for open shop construction.

At a recent City Council hearing on another topic (L+M and BFC’s investment in several public housing projects), questions were raised about the firms’ labor practices. The Daily News reported:

L&M… has used contractors that were caught in a slew of violations of worker wage and safety rules. One of its subcontractors was hit with $266,000 in fines over work conditions since 2004, the Daily News reported. BFC’s managing principal drew complaints from Harlem residents charging shoddy construction and repairs and a building there – and then slapped them with a defamation suit, later dismissed, when they contacted local politicians about the trouble.

UPDATE 8:14 a.m. Here’s the press release from the development team:

Today Delancey Street Associates (DSA) and 32BJ SEIU, New York City’s largest property workers service union, announced an agreement that will create up to 80 full-time good jobs with health insurance, training and retirement benefits across the six-acre Essex Crossing project on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and provide training for local residents to fill those jobs. This marks the first time the union has partnered with a developer for training in a new development. 

DSA, a tri-venture comprising BFC Partners, L+M Development Partners and Taconic Investment Partners, will partner with 32BJ and the Lower East Side Employment Network – an array of community workforce development groups – to implement the training program. The public-private model will allow prospective workers to receive job skills training to enhance their ability to pursue the project’s promising employment opportunities.

 “I commend DSA for its commitment to ensuring that Essex Crossing’s neighbors are trained and readied for the dozens of quality property service jobs the project will create,” said New York City Economic Development Corporation President Kyle Kimball. “From the beginning, the Lower East Side community has been an integral partner on this project, and we look forward to the thousands more jobs, hundreds of units of affordable housing, and commercial and community assets the project will bring to the neighborhood.”

 “After decades of community feedback, we’re crafting Essex Crossing to reflect the soul of the Lower East Side,” said Ron Moelis, CEO and Founding Partner of L+M Development Partners. “This partnership with the city’s largest property workers services union will directly engage local residents through a unique public-private workforce development partnership, and that local focus makes today’s agreement all the more meaningful. Along with my partners from BFC and Taconic, we’re thrilled that this deal will ensure that this quintessentially Lower East Side project will provide good jobs for Lower East Siders for years to come.”

 “We’re very happy to partner with Delancey Street Associates to ensure good jobs for local community members at Essex Crossing,” said 32BJ Secretary-Treasurer Kyle Bragg. “DSA’s commitment to creating quality jobs in the neighborhood is a model for residential buildings across our city. We look forward to working with DSA and community members as the development progresses.”

 “The local training and hiring commitment we’ve achieved here is a win-win-win for the Lower East Side,” said David Garza, Executive Director of Henry Street Settlement, a co-founder of the Lower East Side Employment Network. “Our residents benefit from access to high-quality employment opportunities, 32BJ benefits from a customized recruitment process with trusted partners, and this unique collaboration helps Delancey Street Associates to deliver a meaningful benefit to the community. We are proud to be part of the Network and are grateful to all of the stakeholders for caring enough about the community to position this initiative to succeed.”

Essex Crossing was previously known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) and has sat mostly vacant since 1967. The area is the largest undeveloped parcel of land in Manhattan below 96th Street.

DSA is expected to break ground on the first phase of the project in the summer of 2015 with the construction of 561 apartments, 313 of which will be affordable. The initial phase will also include an expansive new home for the Essex Street Market, the largest movie theater in Manhattan below Union Square, and a 15,000-square foot public park.

Overall, Essex Crossing will include 1,000 residential units – half of which will be affordable – and 850,000 square feet of commercial space.

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