Reported by JOHN MARZULLI,
VIRGINIA BREEN, JERRY CAPECI, LISA REIN,
DAVID L. LEWIS, MICHELLE McPHEE,
JAMES RUTENBERG and LAURA WILLIAMS
Written by BILL HUTCHINSON
Daily News Staff Writers
Tens of thousands of angry construction workers
paralyzed midtown Manhattan yesterday as a peaceful protest exploded
into wild clashes between cops and bottle-throwing demonstrators
- catching Mayor Giuliani and the NYPD off guard.
An army of 40,000 hardhats flooded streets
in a raucous show of frustration over the awarding of a major
Metropolitan Transportation Authority project to nonunion workers.
Some protesters pelted cops with rocks and
bottles and even tried to overturn a van as the surging throng
stopped traffic, forced businesses to close and sent pedestrians
and motorists scattering for safety.
"I think it's a shame the workers would
attack police officers," said Mayor Giuliani, who visited
the hospitalized cops.
Top police brass admitted they were caught
flat-footed by the growing mass of burly, chanting workers.
"They said there would be no more than
10,000," said Police Commissioner Howard Safir. "Our
estimate is that approximately 40,000 showed up."
In all, 38 protesters were arrested on charges
ranging from disorderly conduct to rioting and assaulting police,
and 20 cops and three protesters were treated for injuries.
One muscle-bound demonstrator was nabbed
for punching a police horse.
"There was a sense that a few of these
people were intoxicated, including the one who assaulted the horse,"
said Giuliani, adding that the city will sue the unions for damages.
The protest began peacefully about 8 a.m.
as union workers gathered in a light rain in front of MTA headquarters
at 44th St. and Madison Ave.
In civil but boisterous speeches, labor leaders
blasted the MTA for awarding Roy Kay Inc. a $33 million contract
in April to build a subway command center at 54th St. and Ninth
They charged the Freehold, N.J., company
uses cheap nonunion workers and violates safety procedures. MTA
officials confirmed the state Labor Department is investigating
alleged safety violations.
"Once you let these nonunion guys in
and get their foot in the door, there's no turning back,"
said ironworker Joe Horan, 43, of Queens, waving an American flag
and wearing a hardhat.
MTA Chairman Virgil Conway said state law
required the agency to award the contract to Roy Kay because it
was the lowest responsible bidder. "We are required to accept
the lowest bid, whether that be union or nonunion," he said.
The protest swelled into a moving melee about
9 a.m., when one worker screamed, "Let's go over to the job
In a flash, the 550 police officers on hand
found themselves overwhelmed as ironworkers, steelworkers, carpenters,
truckers and other laborers began marching across town.
"What do we want? Union!" they
shouted in unison. "When do we want it? Now!"
Union workers rallied around a 15-foot-tall
inflatable rat they said symbolizes nonunion workers nibbling
away at their livelihoods.
"This is all about people whose jobs
are being taken from them," said union attorney Stanley Kopilow,
who went to the Midtown North Precinct stationhouse to bail out
In the confusion, as demonstrators split
along different unplanned routes to the site, protesters and cops
were hit with eye-stinging Mace. One protester was in stable condition
at Bellevue Hospital after being kicked in the face by a horse.
By 11:30 a.m., the crowd thinned to 1,000
hardhats who neared the construction site. They ran into a line
of barricades and riot gear-clad cops on foot and on horseback.
Several bystanders were caught in the chaos.
MTA driver Tony Citarella, 40, was trucking
motors to Queens when he ran into a mob shouting obscenities.
He said the demonstrators pelted his truck with rocks and bottles,
breaking its windows.
"I blew the red light and got out of
there as fast as I could," Citarella said. "My mama
didn't raise me stupid."
A Yonkers contractor building a cigar room
at the Amarone restaurant at Ninth Ave. and 42nd St. said he slammed
down the security gate as the protesters spotted him.
"They were all screaming, 'Get the scabs,'
" said the contractor, who did not want to be named. "I
was fearing for my life." He said the demonstrators started
rocking his van and slashed two tires.
The angry laborers screamed "Police
state!" as they knocked over metal and wooden barricades
at the site. One helmeted cop was shoved to the ground. A police
sergeant fell to the pavement with a protester in a headlock.
A demonstrator climbed to the third floor
of the Transit Authority command center. As workers cheered, he
ripped down an American flag and wrapped himself in it.
During the last month, the labor unions have held similar, but much smaller, protests. Late yesterday, organizers said they had warned the city to expect 40,000. Marilyn Mode, a police spokeswoman, denied that and said the NYPD had planned for 15,000.