NEW YORK—On Monday morning, approximately 120 cement workers stood in front of the World Trade Center (WTC) construction site—refusing to pick up their trowels and get down to business as usual. It wasn’t an official strike, but it was a warning to the Cement League contractors that they will not continue to work if the 15 to 20 percent pay cut the contractors wish to impose goes through.
The official strike will begin on Tuesday if a deal is not struck between the unions and the Cement League, report the workers. The unions had no official comment to make on the matter, nor did the Cement League.
The contract between Locals 18A, 20, and 6A and the Cement League contractors expired on July 1.
“For the last month we have been working on good faith,” said Willie O’Keefe, head of 18A. "We will not work until we get a new contract."
If the cement workers go on strike, it will take about five days for all construction to halt at the WTC site, says union leader for Local 6A, Joseph Enright.
The steel workers can only work five floors ahead of the cement workers, and Enright says they are almost to that point, as far as he knows. Carpenters can put up forms for a couple of days after the cement workers stop, but after that their hands are also tied.
“It’s like a team,” explained Enright, “The job can’t get done if all the players aren’t there.”
A whole slew of construction contracts in the city expired on July 1.
Some unions made concessions and some contract deadlines were extended.
Contractors across the city were pushing unions to lower their labor costs. The contractors estimate that they pay a 30 percent premium for union labor over non-union labor. They agree with the unions that union work is preferable and generally more reliable, but still call for a decrease in labor costs.
The cement workers unions were pushing for a pay raise as the contractors pushed back for a pay cut. Several workers at the site Monday morning reported that they would happily give up the idea of an increase if they could avoid strike and maintain their current pay. While on strike, they do not earn any wages.The cement workers say they are among the lowest paid trades on site. They are also the ones always exposed to the elements and they do not receive vacation pay, all factors leading to a disgruntled group of workers.
Enright reports that some other trades people have indicated they will not cross the picket lines, including some steel workers.
"As long as it takes, we are going to be on strike,” said Enright with resolve, “We are not taking a pay cut."