We stand in support of Governor Hochul‘s call for additional federal resources to deal with the migrant crisis in New York City. More than 100,000 migrants have arrived in New York City since last spring, and it has placed unprecedented strain on city and state resources. The City’s shelter population has reached record levels and last week alone, an additional 2,700 migrants arrived in the city in need of housing and social services.
Additional federal resources—which may include using federal installations for temporary housing– can help ease the shelter and housing shortage. Resources can also be used to employ an effective casework system to better help asylum seekers exit city shelter services and gain legal work status. Work authorization is paramount to ensure migrants don’t navigate to hazardous territories such as an underground construction economy that preys upon and exploits vulnerable workers like migrants.
LIUNA was founded more than a century ago by proud immigrants and we continue to work for fair treatment of immigrant workers in this nation and we represent more than 40,000 members in New York State. We believe the unprecedented challenges New York faces require unprecedented support from the federal government. It is in everyone’s best interest to support, process, and protect migrant workers as they navigate the asylum process and seek to care for themselves and their families.
(JERSEY CITY, NEW JERSEY) More than 1,000 construction workers—members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA)–rallied outside of Newport Town Square Park in Jersey City this afternoon calling for an end to worker exploitation and abuse on Jersey City construction projects.
Originally planned for inside Newport Town Square Park, multi-billion-dollar developer LeFrak closed down the park for public use this morning, claiming ownership. The Union saw the developer’s action as disappointing but emblematic of the issue.
LIUNA Vice President and Regional Manager Mike Hellstrom commented on Lefrak’s decision to close the park, “rich developers feel like they can do what they want—to the employees building their high-rises and to local residents seeking to peacefully assemble. The sense of entitlement and unwillingness to do what it right is exactly why we are here.” Developers like LeFrak consider this City their fiefdom and that they can do whatever they want, but the help is revolting. We aren’t going away. In fact, we will grow.”
Hellstrom pointed out a troubling shift in real estate development and construction in Jersey City. In past decades, generations of union workers–local residents–built Jersey City’s buildings and infrastructure. In the last decade as construction boomed and new buildings filled the skyline, however, developers chose to accept tax breaks and other government aid but left the local workforce behind for unscrupulous business practices that lower standards and cheat workers.
“Jersey City used to be a place where workers were valued and a hard day’s labor was rewarded,” said Hellstrom, “but today we can see a development community that has decoupled from quality, union careers in favor of exploiting workers for profit.”
Jersey City is now the 10th “tallest” city in the United States and projections are for more than a dozen additional high-rises with a value exceeding $5 billion starting in the next few years. For all its growth in housing inventory, however, Jersey City is becoming unaffordable to most workers. Despite tremendous racial and ethnic diversity, for example, Jersey City is rated as “highly segregated” according to the Othering and Belonging Institute at The University of California – Berkeley.
LIUNA General President Brent Booker addressed the assembled crowd and urged them not back down from the challenges ahead and that his 550,000-member union supports them. “I am proud to stand with my LIUNA brothers and sisters in Jersey City and join them in demanding what any person who works hard for a living deserves – the right to a union and good-family supporting wages and benefits.”
On hand at the Laborers Fight Back Rally was a former worker at The Wave development project, Moises Nunez Colindres, who described the day he was critically injured on the 30th floor of the unfinished LeFrak-owned building. Supervisors at Concrete Rising, a contractor hired for the LeFrak project, pushed him and his co-workers to work harder and faster in very dangerous conditions and showed literally no concern after he got hurt. Speaking to the crowd in his native Spanish, Nunez Colindres described the actions taken by his employer after his injury.
“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 said.
Rev. Carl E. Styles, business manager of the New Jersey Building Laborers District Council, said that stories like that of Moises Nunez Colindres are not one-offs, but rather part of a prevailing trend in construction that utilizes vulnerable workers, most notably, immigrants and the formerly incarcerated, to perform work knowing that they have little recourse to address or remedy unfair or unsafe treatment.
“Employers know how to find and hire vulnerable workers. They don’t have to look much further than day-laborer corners and parole offices, or subcontracting exploitation through a labor broker,” explained Styles. “And while wage theft, retaliation, and worker endangerment may be commonplace right now, it doesn’t have to stay that way. If Jersey City wants to raise the skyline the right way, they better raise standards and aggressively enforce the laws that protect workers.”
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 said. “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.”
Recognizing the 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 union is employing dozens of experienced worker organizers who monitor projects of all size, meet with workers, and forward any evidence of illegal actions to the appropriate authorities. LIUNA advocates for the rights of all workers.
Following today’s vote on the FY24 New York State budget, LIUNA Vice President and Eastern Regional Manager Michael Hellstrom released the following statement
“In addition to being a financial plan, state budgets outline priorities. In January, Governor Hochul laid out a bold vision rooted in supporting New Yorker’s most basic needs: housing, public safety, and family-sustaining wages. While progress was made in a few areas, today’s vote on the final budget agreement falls short of adequately addressing the challenges New Yorkers are continuing to face.
“Our union firmly believes housing is a human right, and the most pressing need for a majority of New Yorkers – making the Housing Compact a welcome policy for us. After working diligently to inject labor standards and secure a New York City community hiring policy as a part of the Compact, we’re disappointed it was not included in the final budget, but we know the Governor and legislature remain committed to addressing this vital issue long-term. Together, we can build for New Yorkers the affordable housing they so desperately need while ensuring it also spurs career opportunities in the unionized construction industry.
“On the bright side, this budget cycle did offer some good news. LIUNA is proud to have worked on raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation. The wage increase voted on today is a start to addressing the wage injustice that harms minimum wage workers and their families.
“We look forward to working through the end of the legislative session on these priorities, and well as many others. We trust that with the leadership of Governor Hochul, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, and Speaker Heastie, we will find a path forward that continues addressing the needs of working people in New York.”
I am writing to share with you exciting news from the LIUNA front. On Monday, our two tireless leaders—General President Terry O’Sullivan and General Secretary-Treasurer Armand E. Sabitoni–both announced to the General Executive Board their intention to retire from their respective positions effective April 30, 2023. Throughout their entire careers, and especially as the leaders of this great international union, Terry and Armand have made a tremendous, really historic, impact. If I were to list all of Terry and Armand’s accomplishments, this letter would turn into a book. So instead, let me just thank Terry and Armand for their leadership, service, and support of our International Union and congratulate them on their upcoming retirements!
It speaks to our union’s strength that two amazingly strong, competent, and committed leaders can pass on the duties and responsibilities of office to two equally strong, competent, and committed leaders. To that end, the General Executive Board voted unanimously to appoint LIUNA Vice President Brent Booker to become LIUNA’s eleventh General President and LIUNA Vice-President and Rhode Island Laborers’ District Council Business Manager Michael F. Sabitoni as our next General Secretary-Treasurer. This is great news for LIUNA, and I couldn’t be more optimistic for our future and excited for our Union
Brent is a third-generation Laborer who started his work in LIUNA’s Construction Department and, for past decade, served as General Secretary-Treasurer of the North American Building Trades Union. He comes into office ready and able to lead LIUNA to new heights. Similarly, Michael Sabitoni is also a third-generation laborer who has dedicated his working life to LIUNA and brings the knowledge and experience to ensure LIUNA has the financial resources and organizational strength to succeed and grow. I have worked with both Brent and Michael for many years now and look forward to continuing our work as members of LIUNA’s General Executive Board.
It should be noted that in the 23-years that Terry and Armand led this great Union, we have experienced everything from major economic recessions and global pandemics to all-out legislative and political attacks on our union and our work. We have witnessed major shifts in our industries, growth in others, and have brought the fight to those who would challenge our jurisdiction or threaten our ability to work and organize.
The first principle of leadership is that one leaves their organization in a better place than when they arrived. For all that was already good about LIUNA when Terry and Armand assumed office, they most definitely left things far better off as they prepare to retire. Knowing Brett and Michael as I do, I would expect them to do the very same thing. I hope you will join me in offering our solidarity and support.
Sincerely and fraternally, Michael E. Hellstrom Vice President, LIUNA and Eastern Regional Manager
Following New York State Governor Kathy Hochul’s FY24 budget address, LIUNA Vice President and Eastern Regional Manager Michael Hellstrom released the following statement:
“I applaud Governor Kathy Hochul’s bold vision to build 800,000 homes as part of her New York Housing Compact. Governor Hochul demonstrates a keen understanding of the very real challenges families face securing safe, affordable housing and has put forth an ambitious and responsive policy proposal.
“While details of the Governor’s housing plan have yet to be finalized, it is my sincere hope that the New York Housing Compact will include clear and enforceable labor standards that protect workers, strengthen communities, and help ensure responsible contracting in the residential construction industry. If done right, the Housing Compact will not only build housing, it will also build long term careers in the unionized construction industry and set workplace standards that will extend far beyond any one building program.
“We will be working diligently until the April 1st budget deadline to ensure labor standards and protections are added to the final agreement. We trust that—together with Governor Hochul and our partners in the legislature–we can find a path forward that better supports the needs of working people in New York.”
EAST BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY — The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), the 20,000-member political powerhouse in New Jersey has announced its support for Assemblyman Dan Benson in the race to serve as Mercer County Executive. The building trades union has two union halls in Mercer County (Local 172 in Trenton and Local 77 in Ewing), one of the state’s largest political action committees, and a politically active membership.
LIUNA Vice President and Eastern Regional Manager Michael E. Hellstrom talked about Benson’s experience, energy, and openness to new ideas. “In addition to its government services, Mercer County is also an important and influential property owner and caretaker of public lands and property,” Hellstrom explained. “Mercer County has close to 200 miles of county roadway, a 7,000-student county college, public buildings, parks, and a public airport. All that infrastructure must be maintained and modernized in a responsive and fiscally responsible manner, yet opportunities are lost to connect the skilled local workforce of Mercer County to public investment. Dan Benson understands that we must do a better job of creating jobs and supporting Mercer County families. He has demonstrated as chair of the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee a willingness to listen, consider, and most importantly, lead. LIUNA’s endorsement of Dan Benson for Mercer County Executive is a based on our respect for all that he has done and our confidence for what he will do in the future.”
“I am grateful for not only LIUNA’s endorsement, but also for their leadership in representing workers, protecting work standards, and providing employers with a skilled and productive workforce that builds a better New Jersey,” said Assemblyman Benson. “Mercer County is better when we work together—government, the private sector, non-profits, higher education, everybody. A Benson administration will look beyond business as usual and towards new ideas and better service.”
# # # The 20,000-member New Jersey Laborers Union is the statewide affiliate of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) and represents workers in various industries, including construction, clean energy, environmental remediation, sanitation and recycling, security, public service, and education. The New Jersey Laborers are widely viewed as having been instrumental in helping to lift living standards and workplace safety for employees and for developing innovative cooperative relationships with employers and communities.
Take Five Five questions for our new VP and Regional Manager, Mike Hellstrom, Jr.
Laborers Local 108 member Mike Hellstrom assumed office in early November as LIUNA Vice President and Eastern Regional Manager. Most recently, he served as business manager of the Mason Tenders District Council of Greater New York, and he succeeds Raymond M. Pocino who announced his retirement after serving for 25-years as VP and 66 years as a Union Laborer. We sat down with Mike to find out more about him, week one, and what to expect in the future.
Q. One week down. Any surprises?
HELLSTROM: Not really. I think that’s because I came into the position ready to learn. We can’t know everything, but we should be willing to learn anything. Thankfully, I wasn’t thrown into the fire. Ray Pocino spent countless hours with me in preparation of the transition. Also, our local unions, district councils, and funds have been open and eager to work with me.
Q. You mentioned Ray Pocino. Can you talk a bit about what Ray means to LIUNA?
HELLSTROM: Ray is a everything you want in a Union leader and his legacy will live on for ages. We all know about LIUNA’s motto: Justice, Honor, Strength. We know the importance of solidarity, organizing the unorganized, and protecting our jurisdiction. These are our values and Ray added to them his standards of always trying to do better, never giving up, and never becoming complacent. He is an amazing man and a good friend.
Q. Will things be different under you?
HELLSTROM: Of course, it will be! We are different people with different styles. The challenges I face may also be different than what Ray faced. Things will change because life around us always changing. What won’t change is our mission: we will continue to provide the pathways to good middle-class jobs in construction and the industries we represent. We will support our members and ask our members to support each other.
Q. What makes LIUNA special?
HELLSTROM: Just look at the numbers. LIUNA members earn more than their non-union counterparts. We also don’t have the huge wage disparities based on race, gender, and ethnicity. If numbers aren’t your thing, look at our people. LIUNA members come from all walks of life. We celebrate our diversity and value unity more than uniformity. Our training and apprenticeship funds, our safety, organizing, and political action funds—best in the business. I have been a Union Laborer for 38 years and every day I am grateful for the opportunity.
Q. You ready?
HELLSTROM: I hope we are all ready! LIUNA members already know, we aren’t given anything. We work for it; we fight for it. Being ready for whatever comes our way is practically a requirement for being a union laborer. On the job, in boardrooms and legislative chambers, and on the streets and in our communities, LIUNA must always be ready for the next challenges and opportunities.
“Governor Florio was a dedicated and determined legislator, a principled and effective Governor, and more than that, he was my friend. I mourn the passing of this honorable man and true public servant.
Jim and I cut our teeth together in South Jersey—he as an assemblyman and then Congressman, me representing Laborers Local 172. He was a man who was always available to answer questions or address concerns, and he challenged me to never settle for easy answers when the right answers were out there for those willing to work for it. I was so honored when he appointed me to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority in 1990, a role I would continue for the next four decades.
Jim Florio leaves behind a legacy that will never be forgotten. I offer my condolences to Lucinda and the whole Florio family.”
(September 8, 2022) Today, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development issued a stop work order for the construction project at 155 Jefferson Street in Newark, New Jersey, the proposed Newark High School of Architecture and Interior Design which was being developed by an LLC managed by Summit Assets CEO Albert Nigri. Under the terms of the agreement, the building will be leased back to the Newark Public School District for use as a technical high school. Under New Jersey law, leaseback projects like these are considered public work and must adhere to all pertinent public contracting laws.
LEROF—the organizing arm of Laborers’ International Union of North America—filed a complaint with the NJ DOL in May 2022 alleging workers are exposed to unsafe conditions and are not being paid prevailing wages as required by law.
LIUNA Vice President and Eastern Regional Manager Raymond M. Pocino stated that the NJ DOL’s decision to issue a stop work order for the 155 Jefferson Street project validates the union’s claims.
“We have spoken to workers on the Jefferson Street project who have been exposed to dangerous and unsafe conditions. We know they have been paid significantly less than the state mandated prevailing wage. We also know that the only one who stands to benefit are the private developers who choose breaking the law over following it,” said Pocino.
“The New Jersey Department of Labor was right to issue a stop work order and I applaud Commissioner Rob Asaro-Angelo and his staff for doing so,” Pocino continued. “When evidence of illegal activities is found, the NJ DOL must use its powers to address the issue and hold responsible parties accountable. Enforcement of the law not only catches bad guys, it also helps ensure standards are followed and that the public gets what they paid for. It sends a signal to other developers and contractors—follow the law or face the consequences.”
Paul Roldan, Business Manager of LIUNA Local 3 echoed Pocino’s statement. “The public deserves to know that a $160 million school construction project like this is being built to the highest standards. This school can be a model for creating good paying jobs for local residents, for the quality of its construction, and for its value to the community. A stop work order eliminates the immediate risk to workers, but the work doesn’t stop there. Newark Public Schools, the City of Newark, and the State of New Jersey must now do what is necessary to ensure Newark students receive the school they deserve, a school that is built by people who follow the law and serve the public and not themselves.”
Today, as a nation, as a union, and as individuals, we honor those who laid down their lives in service to our country.
These brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedoms are deserving of our respect, our remembrance, and our thanks.
Whether in private reflection, by watching or participating in a local parade, or through service at a memorial or cemetery, we see the highest virtues of our country and our citizenry illuminated by the beacon of their supreme sacrifice.
Every day, but especially today, we should honor and remember the last full measure these service members gave to our country.
Raymond M. Pocino LIUNA Vice President Eastern Regional Manager