The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) held another big Jersey City rally this afternoon speaking out against worker exploitation and abuse, this time taking their 1,000-plus workers to Newport Town Square Park.
According to LIUNA leadership, luxury developers LeFrak closed down the park this morning as they were assembling, claiming ownership, which the union leaders felt was emblematic of the issue they were protesting.
Moises Nunez Colindres described the day he was critically injured on the 30th floor of the unfinished LeFrak-owned building “The Wave.”
“They lowered me off the building by a crane in a garbage bin. No one called an ambulance for me. They treated me like I did not matter,” he asserted.
LIUNA Eastern Region Chief of Staff Bernard Callegari said that if a firefighter or teacher were injured as badly as a construction worker and similarly ignored, “there would be outrage in the streets for our public servants.”
“There have been many atrocities that have happened in our country that were not illegal. We don’t use the law as our barometer. We use ethics. We need champions that are going to come up and really speak out against what’s really going on here in Jersey City,” he declared.
Several politicos lent their support to the effort, including Democratic nominee for Hudson County Craig Guy, Democratic state Assembly nominee Jessica Ramirez (D-32), County Commissioner Bill O’Dea (D-2), Jersey City Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore, Jersey City Council President Joyce Watterman.
“We are not going anywhere! We are not moving! I understand your struggle. I know what it is to be misused. I know what it is to not get fair wages. We want a seat at the table! When there was no table, we made our own table! We pulled up on our own chair! Put us at the table!We will not quit! We will not give in!” exclaimed Watterman.
“Small businesses are known to be the backbone of the economy. But when you look at developers, laborers are the backbone of development!” she also declared to great applause.
LIUNA Vice President and Eastern Regional Manager Michael Hellstrom said this isn’t a new fight, but nonetheless expressed frustration about have to go to battle with another “greedy developer.”
“Leave it to a greedy developer to shut down a park and think it would the end of our activity. You can shut the park down. We were gonna take over the f***ing monkey bars!” he shouted.
“It is our solidarity that is the only antidote to greed. This is a billionaire’s playground here in Newport. A billionaire’s playground where they own the streets, they collect the parking fares. They say they own the park. This is their private castle! Well, it’s been invaded by the help today brothers and sisters!”
Hellstrom pointed as Jersey City construction boomed, developers chose to accept tax breaks and other government assistance, but left the local workforce behind.
“Jersey City used to be a place where workers were valued and a hard day’s labor was rewarded. But today we can see a development community that has decoupled from quality, union careers in favor of exploiting workers for profit.”
LIUNA President Brent Booker was also there to keep the large contingent fired up.
“LIUNA builds America, and LIUNA builds Jersey City. These developers and contractors think they can treat workers like a piece of garbage after they’ve been hurt and lower them down in a garbage bin. We show up and say not in our union city!” he bellowed.
“Somebody woke up this morning and thought a couple pieces of orange fence and a little barricade was going to keep us from talking today about our union rights! That ain’t happening brothers and sisters!”
Callegari later noted that people routinely died on work sites in this country until labor unions came along.
Furthermore, LIUNA Local 3 Business Manager Paul Roldan-Eng echoed the need for enforcement and highlighted the role local unions like LIUNA play.
“We not only represent workers, we represent the fair workplace standards that benefit all workers—union and non-union alike,” he added.
“Jersey City has a choice: to look at worker exploitation as a civic problem that hurts working families, law-abiding employers, and entire communities or Jersey City can look at worker exploitation as an opportunity to reward those willing and able to cheat. The choice seems abundantly clear. Now, Jersey City must take action and do something about it.”
A spokesperson for LeFrak didn’t have any apologies for LIUNA.
“Newport’s public spaces were built for Jersey City families to enjoy and recreate, not for political mischief, hectoring, and disorderly conduct. The brief closure of Town Square Park, which Newport built and maintains, wasn’t even a minor inconvenience.“
Recognizing systematic problems in construction, LIUNA has implemented the Laborers Fight Back campaign to root out corruption and worker exploitation on construction projects in New Jersey.
The powerful labor union held a similar rally at One Journal Square in May.