Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Clash Looms Between Teachers, Builders Unions

BY ELIZABETH GREEN - Staff Reporter of the Sun

December 4, 2007
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/67486

A clash between two city unions could erupt today as construction laborers threaten to send thousands of protesters to a 50th birthday celebration for the president of the city teachers union, Randi Weingarten.

Organizers for the construction laborers said their union, the New York City District Council of Carpenters, is furious over an affordable housing complex for teachers that is being built by non-union laborers.

"It's important for the union movement not to undercut each other," a field representative with the Carpenters Labor Management Corporation, Elly Spicer, said. "It's about worker solidarity."

RELATED: Flier by Construction Workers Criticizing the UFT (jpeg)

Ms. Weingarten yesterday reversed her initial support for the plan, which is being funded with $28 million from the city's teacher pension fund, sending a letter to the trustees of the fund asking them to oppose the project by selling the bonds they had lent to fund it.

Representatives of both unions are meeting now in an effort to avert a protest, Ms. Spicer said. But until an agreement is reached, organizers said, thousands of construction laborers are set to converge onto the site of Ms. Weingarten's birthday party, the headquarters of the United Federation of Teachers.

Organizers for the construction laborers said targeting the site of Ms. Weingarten's birthday party would gain them leverage in talks.

"We hate to do this on somebody's 50th birthday, but — what better time, you know?" an organizer for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, Thomas Costello, said.

In an interview yesterday, Ms. Weingarten said the city comptroller and city housing officials had given a solid promise to trustees of the teacher pension fund that the project would be built by union laborers. She said she realized last week she had been the victim of a 'material misrepresentation.'

After failing to convince the city to renegotiate its contract with the developer, Ms. Weingarten said she had no option but to ask the pension fund to sell the bonds that are paying for the construction. The arrangement would not kill the project, but would take teacher pension money away from it.

Ms. Spicer criticized Ms. Weingarten for failing to recognize that non-union laborers were building the complex.

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