Hundreds of New York City union members, from hotel workers to construction workers and building maintenance crews, gathered at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon—not in an act of protest, but to stress the need for good and safe jobs as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s rezoning plan for affordable housing. The unions and Public Advocate Letitia James want to ensure that the new developments will create safe jobs and benefit communities.
Mayor de Blasio’s $41.1 billion affordable housing plan requires a change in zoning codes within the five boroughs to ensure that developers can build taller and wider structures; in return, he is asking for affordable units. The rezoning runs a fine line between benefitting and hurting the communities impacted—and the union members are the ones who would directly feel the affects. The event—“Zone in on Good Jobs”—warned that without good working conditions and new jobs, the plan could hurt the communities experiencing rezoning.
“I live in East New York and my neighborhood is going through a lot of big changes,” said Bryan Rodriguez, a union member and plumber who spoke in front of hundreds of his colleagues and also led the crowd through cheers throughout the event. “The rezoning will help create good jobs and affordable housing in this city.”
Many of the union members live in the neighborhoods undergoing rezoning. And with raising rents and gentrification, they are at risk of being priced out of the city.
“Every New Yorker deserves to live and work in New York City with dignity,” said Rafael Moralez a union member from The Bronx.
Lenore Friedlaender, the assistant to the president of union 32BJ in charge of strategic partnerships, pumped up the crowd by speaking to their concerns and hopes for new job opportunities. “It’s time for justice for the working people of New York City,” she said. “When we have good jobs, that’s the foundation for a community.”
There was an overwhelming sentiment that the new jobs need to be safe. Public Advocate Letitia James expressed City Hall’s support to ensure their safety. “New Yorkers would be shocked by some of the work conditions of the workers,” she said. “But it’s a new day in City Hall! We must build the buildings responsibly.”
Friedlaender said developers should be responsible for training their workers and providing safe environments. She mapped out five principles that would ensure a positive experience for communities and developers. Her goals included hiring workers from within the community. “We know the difference these jobs could make for our community,” Friedlaender said.
She also wants to ensure environmentally sustainable development, which includes making sure these communities can sustain an influx of residents. Thus, Friedlaender said, the rezoning should lead to adequate transportation and schools, which would need updating with more residents. She also wants to ensure transparency of the public subsidies and benefits.
The crowd roared in support whenever speakers used buzz-phrases like “good jobs,” “community,” or “safe working conditions.”
“We should stand together and not stand for anything less,” said Brown. “It’s up to us to preserve the legacy of the union movement”