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5Pointz owner backtracks on promise to use union labor on rental towers

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Hundreds of protesters gathered at the former 5Pointz site to blasts Jerry Wolkoff and his development firm for broken promises

Yesterday, protesters converged on the former site of 5Pointz in Long Island City—which is now on its way to becoming two rental towers—to denounce developer Jerry Wolkoff and his firm G&M Realty for what they alleged were broken promises to the community. The rally, led by City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer, was over the lack of union workers at the construction site, reports Hyperallergic.

In a letter allegedly sent from G&M Realty to Van Bramer in 2013, the company pledged to employ union workers, stating "it is our intention to engage contractors which employ individuals represented by labor unions that are affiliated with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New well as members of the 32BJ operating the building." It goes on to promise the creation of 800 "good paying construction jobs" and about 200 full-time jobs on site. The Times Ledger reported that Wolkoff even went so far as to promise 100 percent union labor, which was confirmed by Van Bramer’s office when contacted by Curbed. “Jerry Wolkoff came to me and wanted to build a building here, and I said to him, 'I will not permit you to build the building that you want to build unless you build 100 percent union, and unless you staff the building 100 percent union,” he declared, “Only because he did that did we approve this project. But we were lied to.” The only union workers said to be involved in the project are those that are delivering cement to the construction site.

And Jimmy Van Bramer is pissed. "Jerry Wolkoff lied to me. Jerry Wolkoff lied to every single New Yorker. Jerry Wolkoff, I will never believe another word you ever say … nor will I ever approve any project you ever want to build in my district or in this city," Van Bramer declared to the crowd as they interjected with "fuck Jerry" and "piece of shit" chants.

Wolkoff’s promise to use union labor helped him receive a height variance from the City Council that allows his forthcoming rental towers to exceed the area’s local zoning limit. Each tower will rise to 40-stories tall. Wolkoff did throw the community a bone by increasing the number of affordable rentals within the project from 75 to 210. Once complete, the towers will have a total of about 1,000 apartments.

Council of Carpenters rep Rubén Colón cited the safety concerns that have been created as a result of Wolkoff’s backtracking. "Fifteen construction workers from non-union construction sites were killed [in NYC] last year, as opposed to two on union sites. Most of them were Latinos. A life is a life, but as a Latino, I take personal issue with that," he told Hyperallergic.

Despite the outrage, there aren’t any immediate plans to hold Wolkoff accountable, though many protesters are calling for the City Council to revoke the variance and shut down the site. In an inquiry made to Councilman Van Bramer’s office regarding potential action towards Wolkoff and G&M Realty, it was explained that the City Council cannot revoke the zoning variance. Even though it was granted based upon the agreement to build with union employees, the variance is a separate entity. However, what they can do is refuse to grant him approval on future projects, as stated in the councilman's speech.

In November 2013, Wolkoff controversially white-washed the graffiti-clad warehouse known as 5Pointz to ostensibly prevent it from being able to obtain landmark status. Wolkoff justified the act by saying "It’s my piece of property and I can do what I want with it." The following year, the building was demolished and construction on the towers commenced shortly thereafter. As it stands, the towers are expected to be completed in 2017.

**The article has been updated to reflect comments made to Curbed from Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer's office after our original publication went live.