When Australian developer Lendlease broke ground on the 1 Java Street development last year, it marked an achievement in sustainable construction, as the project would be the largest U.S. apartment complex to run entirely on geothermal energy. Now, 1 Java is making waves for a different reason.
The NYC District Council of Carpenters, representing nine different unions and over 20,000 union members, says that Lendlease is using nonunion labor on the project. Moreover, the Carpenters say that two of the project’s subcontractors, RNC Industries and Gotham Drywall, have a history of wage theft.
According to the labor outlet Work Bites, “[o]ne of RNC’s principal owners, Richard Tonyes, served 11 months in prison after pleading guilty in 2014 to federal tax-evasion charges stemming from a scheme to avoid paying Social Security taxes for nonunion workers.” The Carpenters ultimately won a $6 million settlement from the company that same year.
A union representative told the outlet that negotiations between the union and the developer faltered after they failed to reach an agreement about using union labor on the upper structure and drywall (Lendlease is using union workers on the flooring).
In response, the Carpenters held a press conference on January 11, where they were joined by Greenpoint’s own Assemblymember Emily Gallagher and State Senator Kristen Gonzalez. Flanked by 200 sign-holding workers (and a special appearance by Scabby the Rat), the elected officials spoke out against the company.
“My district right now is being torn apart by the high cost of living. We are seeing so many buildings at such an expensive level, and then the people who are building it are not using union labor,” Gallagher told the crowd. “Union labor is the only way any of us are going to be able to afford living in our communities. And the fact that they are undercutting the very people in my community is disgusting to me. Shame on Lendlease!”
The assembly member also specifically called out Lendlease’s choice to contract with Gotham Drywall, who was at the center of a wage-theft lawsuit filed in 2019. The Carpenters have said that Gotham Drywall spreads out tax and worker records through a series of shell companies.
“The corrupt practices employed by Lendlease have no place in New York. Stealing union jobs while using union pension and state agency money is truly despicable. Every worker deserves to have access to good union jobs with family-sustaining wages, hard-earned pensions, quality benefits, and life-saving training,” stated Executive Secretary-Treasurer Joseph Geiger. “While union carpenters understand that dire need for additional housing developments, we cannot truly tackle affordability if we’re not simultaneously creating quality jobs for New Yorkers. We call on Lendlease to immediately demand union boots on the ground for the 1 Java St. Project.”
The union pension money that Geiger refers to is the Aware Super, an Australian union pension fund. Lendlease first bought the site in 2020. The development deal required that the company renovate the India Street ferry pier. Lendlease’s ownership of the pier has not exactly been smooth sailing (if you’ll excuse the pun), as permitting delays and environmental issues shut down the pier for about a year and a half. In response to claims about their using nonunion labor, a Lendlease spokesperson said in a statement to Greenpointers:
Lendlease’s vision for 1 Java Street is to deliver one of the city’s most sustainable and inclusive multifamily developments. That includes pioneering work in geothermal energy and usage of sustainable materials, creation of significant public waterfront amenities, voluntary levels of subcontracting to Minority, Women, Veteran, Service-Disabled, and local businesses, creation of 150 union jobs, and creation of 251 affordable housing units. We are also creating 834 residential units in a time of significant housing demand for the City. We are executing our responsibility not only to meet the site requirement to achieve a minimum average hourly wage of $47.25/hour mandated by the NYC 421-a program, but to also select a mix of contractors who align with our values of safety, inclusion and value creation. This balance fuels our ability to fund the unique attributes that will make 1 Java Street a benefit to its residents and the community as well as its investors.