NYC Union Cries Foul on MTA Rehabilitation Project - Dirty Week


A construction worker working on the M train line rehabilitation project at the Knickerbocker stop. All Photos by Jennifer Smith.

The M train came roaring back to life over the restaurants and bodegas edging the Knickerbocker stop in Bushwick, Brooklyn last Sunday, and just as the city began to kick back into motion after Hurricane Sandy, construction too resumed on the overhead subway platform at the corner Knickerbocker and Myrtle Avenues.

The busy corner also saw the reappearance of a large, inflatable rat — a timely symbol for a union picketing at the construction site amidst rumors of a post-Sandy rodent infestation.

Members from the union Ironworkers Local 361 were at the construction site yesterday morning protesting the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s use of non-union ironworkers. The picketers cited improper cleanup and containment of lead paint at the site as one of their chief concerns.

“If you look closely enough on the ground over there you’ll see lead paint,” says John Cavanagh, a member of Ironworkers Local 361 for 27 years. “When we do this work, we’re required that vacuums vacuum everything up, tarp it off. They’re not doing any of that here.”

In a disturbing laundry list of complaints against the non-union ironworkers in question, employed by Forte Construction Corp. and Samna Steel, the Ironworkers Local 361 picketers say they’ve seen construction workers place lead-paint-covered waste in garbage bags by the curb. They also say they have video of workers dumping their potentially contaminated wash-up stations down the sewer. Faced with such “blatant” violations, the picketers suspect inspectors might be turning a blind eye.

“Both of these guys just came off a job rehabilitating the D line in Brooklyn,” Cavanagh says of his fellow picketers. “The rules were a hundred times stricter. You had to wear a respirator. The public couldn’t see you. You had to have that whole area tarped off … full containment.”

Above the shops and apartments along Myrtle Avenue, construction workers rattle away with no visible tarp or containment system in place for the dust kicked up by their work.

The Ironworkers Local 361 picketers maintain that the Metropolitan Transit Authority has worked with their union almost exclusively on train line rehabilitations. According to them, the use of non-union ironworkers is “unheard of.” With their ongoing picket, they’re hoping to challenge the Metropolitan Transit Authority directly and draw attention to potential health and safety hazards.

“The dust is going to blow onto the food over there,” Cavanagh continues, motioning to a street cart serving empanadas. “The sad thing is the people in neighborhood — it’s a poor neighborhood. They have no idea what’s happening to them right now. They could be getting lead poisoning.”

The picketers encourage residents to contact the Metropolitan Transit Authority or 311 to make a complaint.

This is a developing story, pending comment from Metropolitan Transit Authority, Forte Construction Corp., and Samna Steel.

For an update on this story, tune into Third Eye Weekly this Thursday.