Development

Goldtex Project Calls City-Wide Union Dominance In Construction Into Question

June 6, 2012 | by Ryan Briggs

(Page 2 of 3)

Union pickets next to the Goldtex Building | Photo: Peter Woodall

Last Thursday when we visited Goldtex, tradesmen leaned against scaffolding on a neighboring construction site chatting casually with police and Sheriff’s deputies who had been brought in to enforce the restraining order. The order has also dispersed what was an initially clustered group of union protestors into several small camps scattered around the building perimeter, divided up, voluntarily it seemed, by trade.

Now the protestors will periodically rush delivery trucks in an attempt to rout shipments of important equipment and slow construction progress, but mostly they sit. And wait. And wait some more.” I was told by union protestors that they typically received about $5 a day and some food for camping on “scab” construction sites.

A group of four elevator workers had brought folding chairs and sat in the shade of an SUV’s opened hatchback, reading, staring vacantly, or sipping on water from a nearby cooler. Between the blazing sun and khaki sidewalk, the scene felt almost beach-like, the ocean replaced with a chain link fence, manned by several equally bored security guards.

Opinions from the rank and file on what they were doing were delivered with varying degrees of enthusiasm and specificity.

“We’re here to fight for fair wages,” said one protester in a group of several elevator workers, who said he wasn’t very familiar with the developers or this particular site, as he had only recently arrived. Union members and entire trades will rotate protest duties to combat fatigue and general ennui for what is viewed as a necessary but undesirable job.

From another protestor nearby: “We’re here to make a point: this is a union town.”

“They got out-of-towners here taking our work,” he continued, although all but one in the small group later acknowledged they lived outside the city limits.

The building itself? “It’s being built by scabs and it’s gonna be a shitty place to live.”

Although all refused to give their names (and sometimes even their trade) or be photographed, many volunteered stories, some more cryptic than others, of the Post Brothers alleged misdeeds.

“They brought in Latin Kings to intimidate us, there were 30 of those gorillas standing at the front gate a few weeks ago,” said one gray-haired protestor.

“These security guards are all straight out of Afghanistan and Iraq, ex-military,” said a sheet metal worker.

“All I know is they got German bankers financing it, $58 million dollars of German money,” said a younger elevator union member, who added that he heard the Post Brothers laborers were making $9 dollars an hour.

The Post Brothers denied these allegations. However, a middle-aged sheet metal worker had a potentially more cogent critique of the Post Brothers non-union safety standards. “You look at this construction site, all these openings are wide open,” he said, pointing to the building’s empty floor to ceiling window frames. “You go to any one of our jobs with an opening like that has a railing or a toe board. You take those off and every worker needs a harness on. These motherfuckers that hire them they don’t give a fuck,” he said.

A worker behind th securitized gates around the Goldtex site | Photo: Rob Lybeck

He assailed the treatment of non-union workers as well. “What they’re making is not enough for them to pay their bills, have a car, pay insurance. You see them come in with shorts on, they got sneakers, no boots whatsoever, no long pants, no long shirts. All you got to do is come here in the morning and look at these guys they’re calling ‘skilled laborers’ and you can look at them and tell they’re not making the wage that they should be making for that kind of work. They can’t even buy the right equipment to take care of themselves and make sure they can work another day,” he said.

The Post Brothers say they have met OSHA safety regulations and claim they pay wages between $25 and $45 an hour.

Asked about the cost of union labor, the union protester added, “I’ve taken classes on estimation. If you go through the numbers, you’re not going to have the same profit, but you’re still going to have profit.”

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About the Author

Ryan Briggs Ryan Briggs is a journalist who lives in West Philadelphia. A veteran of several economic development agencies in Philadelphia, Ryan has contributed to the Philadelphia City Paper, Next City and other fine, local publications. Follow him on Twitter at @rw_briggs.

20 Comments:

  1. Please read this note if you are inclined to leave a comment on this article. First, if you’ve already made an argument about this issue on our previous article about the Goldtex project, don’t repeat it here. Second, please keep all comments on point and fact. No conjecture, no vitriol will be tolerated; comments not based in fact will not be accepted.

  2. Harry Kyriakodis says:

    Excellent piece…

  3. Rob Lybeck says:

    As a witness,I can attest to the well written, factual and non-biased reportage by Ryan Briggs, bringing to light the differences on both sides of the coin.

  4. Justice says:

    The windows are not floor to ceiling, the sills are over 3 feet high. You cant fall out them. OSHA is there every day because the unions call them. They would fine us and make us change our practices if they were unsafe!

  5. billy ray valentine says:

    In addition to costing 60mm the hilton next to the reading terminal market that the hiddencity article compared to the Goldtex building also featured crane workers sleeping on the crane itself. I took a picture of this scene this morning around 1130, but I cant seem to paste it in here.

    Also, I would imagine the reason there is “no protection” in the windows at that building is because the windows are not floor to ceiling. I live in the building across the street and can see into the Goldtex building, there is at least a 4 foot high concrete wall from the floor before the window opening starts.

    Right on Post Brothers, thanks for cleaning up my neighborhood!

  6. NickFromGermantown says:

    This is very well written and incredibly insightful. This is much better than any of the journalism that is being done by the major media outlets in Philadelphia. It’s astounding.

    As for the subject matter itself, the most telling thing is the methods being used by either side. The Post Brothers have an excellent website that uses excellent rhetoric. By “excellent”, I mean it is both written well as well as being well-reasoned. Are their “facts” all true? I don’t know, but they certainly seem believable. Meanwhile, the unions’ “facts” seem to be concocting stories and hearsay of rumors. Many of their “arguments” are really ad hominem attacks.

    And let’s point out the irony of complaining about “German money” leaving Germany to build something in the United States. How would such a nationalist sentiment work in the context of the fact that so much of the money the United States federal government uses for its projects come in the form of loans from the Chinese? Would the same guy complaining about “German money” also complain about “Chinese money”?

  7. Street Photographer says:

    Interesting.

    I’m near that building almost every day. Maybe I should start taking photos of the union protesters parking on private property, urinating against peoples buildings and between cars and leaving trash on the sidewalk.

    Also, this was a very well written story.

  8. Chris says:

    I’m going to start picketing 100% union jobs. How come it’s Okay for to have 100% union, but not the other way around. Instead of an inflatable rat, I’m going to get an inflatable rubber ducky!

  9. Lisa says:

    FANTASTIC piece. On my walk to work every morning, I see at least 3 different union protests outside active work zones…. and my walk is barely 9 blocks. This is a huge issue that’s affecting any possible progress in Philly’s urban blight situation, and it isn’t talked about enough.

  10. 45 King says:

    This is a great article. Well supported with some interesting facts- like most of these guys go home to the suburbs after a long day of trying to prevent development in the city.

    Between Philadelphia’s absurdly ineffective government, high taxes (some of which are laundered back into private developments to pay the unions), and these inflated construction costs, it is truly amazing is that the city has been growing recently all.

    Wonder what the city could do if it weren’t weighed down by the government/union axis?

    A big part of the story is city council still says how hi whenever these guys jump- Jim Kenney shutting down the project at the unions behest using some bureaucratic pretense. He is obviously part of the problem with Philly government corruption, though hardly the only one.

    Kudos to the Pestronk’s for trying to make the city a better place and their courage in confronting these thugs.

  11. PeterC says:

    Excellent article!

    I particuarly appreciate this:
    “Interestingly, Zuritsky’s company had actually been given the opportunity to buy the Goldtex building from its previous owner. “We looked at that building, because it was offered to us, and even if they gave us building for free we couldn’t make it work because we were gonna build it union,” he said.”

    ‘Nuff said, I think…

    I live in the neighborhood and in no way do I support the unions. Post Brothers is doing a great thing for our neighborhood and, potentially, for the City. Imagine more and more sites going non-union because of this. Imagine the extent to which this City could improve because developers can afford to be innovative and creative?

    Go Post Brothers!

  12. Jake says:

    Other articles that I have read on this say that union work is no longer required in the suburbs due to the Valley Forge Plaza using non-unionized labor in the early 80’s. Is that how it works, one large non-union development begets more non-union work? So is the Goldtex renovation the first mixed labor development of this magnitude in the city?

  13. Karen says:

    Yes, an excellent piece. Finally an intelligent take on a situation that no one had the guts to address.

    I think political corruption is the underlying cause here….Philllie needs an overhaul!

    $63 an hour? In this economy that is unheard of, the rest of us are working for 1/3 of that, sorry to not be so empathetic to your cause union workers!

  14. Righttowork says:

    Every person working on that site should be commended. They suffer jeers, degrading comments, physical threats, flattened tires, broken windshields, they get followed home, just for working an honest job for an honest wage.

    Thank you for your patience.

  15. Vieux Pays says:

    It is appalling that the Philadelphia Inquirer, which touts itself as a voice for reform and transparency, has not run an editorial taking a position on the accusations and counter-accusations involved in this important showdown.

  16. eagleapex says:

    How easy would it be for all of the non-union guys on that job to join up with the protesting union? I hear lots of stories about how insular and closed–off unions are.
    If they don’t allow new members, than it’s a case of hiring one shop over another and not fair pay for all.
    Am I getting this right?

  17. borromini says:

    didn’t bart blatstein foreshadow this entire process with his work in northern liberties years ago….?

    also, the entire construction industry is moving in a new direction – albeit moving very slowly. this new direction involves designers, contractors, and owner/developers working closely together (even contracting all three of these parties together) and there is no voice at the table for workers other than the tired “we want huge wages but our safety record is great and we all live outside the city anyway” voice of the unions.

    the unions are placing themselves outside of this game changing industry conversation and therefore they will be left behind. instead of protesting, the unions should be training a new crop of project managers and laborers in “just in time” and “lean” management and construction practices. simply stated: the unions must innovate or they will certainly die.

  18. Naveen says:

    I’d just like to chime in with the others and say this is an excellent piece, very well-written and thought through. That should be the standard for journalism but these days it simply isn’t. It’s great to see it.

    As to the subject of the article, since the Goldtex project seems to be moving forward despite the protests, is there an estimated completion date? Does the union have anything else they can do to stop it (I’m not advocating that the should, I am just asking if they can).

    Because if not, it will mean that you can build non-union in Philadelphia, albeit with great difficulty. A bigger developer, particularly an out-of-towner who does not play Philly-ball, might see that as an encouraging sign.

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