By TOM ROBBINS
Daily News Staff Writer
The massive protest by city construction
unions shut down more than 200 building projects yesterday as
workers flexed their muscles in a way that New York hasn't seen
"All anybody got done today was cleanup
work," said Louis Colletti, head of the Building Trades Employers
Association, which endorsed the rally against public contracts
awarded to nonunion firms.
While none of the protesters were paid for
the day, employeemployers still lost a day's productivity, having
an untold economic impact.
The traffic-snarling protest outside the
Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Madison Ave. headquarters
was the biggest construction workers event since a 1990 City Hall
rally to press for construction funding, officials said.
Several observers said it was the largest
show of force by construction labor since a 1970 pro-war march
in which hardhats tangled with anti-war protesters.
Union officials said the push for holding
a morning rush-hour rally instead of a more traditional lunchtime
demonstration came from younger, more militant voices in the traditionally
conservative building trades movement.
"They are a new driving force in the
building trades council," said one trade union official.
Union officials said earlier demonstrations
- including a 5,000-member rally last month - against Roy Kay
Inc., the nonunion contractor hired by the MTA, got little notice.
"We wanted to make the biggest statement
possible," said Paul Fernandes of the Building & Construction
Organizers said word of yesterday's rally
was spread to the city's 100,000 construction union members by
job-site organizers, flyers and telephone. "Word went out
to every job site and every union member," said Mike Hellstrom
of Laborers Local 79.
Local 79 has been seen as a spark plug for
recent efforts. The local was created in 1996 as an amalgam of
10 Laborers union locals as part of an anti-corruption push by
the Laborers International Union, which was accused of mob ties
by federal authorities.
The local has demonstrated at dozens of nonunion
construction sites in the last two years.
"People want to think the labor movement
is dead. We think differently," said Hellstrom.
He said that in challenging the MTA, labor
was taking a page from Wall Street.
"It's all about market share. It's a
question of how much of the labor market will be controlled by
decent union contracts," he said.
I cannot disagree more strongly with the last two paragraphs by Mike Hellstrom. Business Agents who control unions and own non-union contracting firms like him may wish to "share" the construction market between scab contractors and unions but construction workers know that this strategy means a race to the bottom for them and their families. That is why Hellstrom and his kind were pushed to the side when they refused to lead their own unions and march on to the scab construction site.