Gary LaBarbera is the President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC) and claims to lead 100,000 union construction workers. BCTC’s unions work on transit construction, affordable housing repairs, and other public projects.
LaBarbera is a controversial figure, forced to settle charges with his own union (Teamsters Local 282) that he allowed a business to “skirt payments to worker benefit funds.” He’s no longer allowed to seek elected office with his old union, but thanks to an unusual sweetheart deal he’s still allowed to be the leader of most New York City construction unions.
LaBarbera and his unions are one reason why New York City can’t afford to fix its crumbling infrastructure.
Construction unions have often faced allegations of racial discrimination. During the early 1990s, New York City investigated the severe underrepresentation of black employees in the construction industry and described the problem as a “profound failure.” Recent lawsuits reveal problems still persist decades later.
Sheet Metal Workers Local 28 was forced to pay nearly $13 million in back pay to black and Hispanic union members. They were sued by the Justice Department for “refusing to admit minority workers.”
Minority workers filed a lawsuit against the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 14—a BCTC member union—alleging union officials “systematically discriminated against men and women of color in the hiring and employment of operating engineers.”
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, minority construction workers received fewer work hours than their white counterparts.
According to a Center for Union Facts analysis of Census Bureau data*, black unionized construction workers in New York City also earn on average $7.96 less per hour than their white counterparts. While white unionized construction workers earn an average of $35.28 per hour, black workers only make $27.32 an hour—a 23 percent pay gap.
Construction union leadership is overwhelmingly male and white, and the faces of union leadership suggest union diversity is more fiction than fact. See them for yourself in the nearby graphic.
The Center for Union Facts wrote an opinion piece in Crain’s NY highlighting racial discrimination in the BCTC. In response, Gary LaBarbera and other pro-union authors wrote letters to the editor in an unsuccessful attempt to undermine the facts presented by Ask Gary Why.
You can read about the back and forth here.
Known for their expensive work rules, LaBarbera’s unions drive up construction costs, which takes valuable resources away from subway repairs and upgrades. According to the New York Times:
The MTA faces a $1 billion budget deficit. Over 70 percent of New York commuters believe the subway system is dirty, delayed, or dangerous.
For more information on Gary and the New York Subway, visit SubwayScam.com.
Like the MTA, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is struggling to find resources.
One reason? According to Politico, the BCTC’s Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with NYCHA has inundated the housing agency with “costly union benefits” while “failing to provide jobs for housing authority residents,” which is part of the union obligation under the PLA.
The Citizens Budget Commission—New York’s leading budget watchdog—recently urged Mayor Bill de Blasio to conduct a “high-quality review” of the agreement, citing “the many problems with NYCHA’s repair and capital programs.” The BCTC promised to generate “100 to 120 union apprenticeship positions annually for NYCHA residents,” but had failed to report whether the PLA met its cost reduction or apprenticeship hiring goals.
There’s also been scrutiny over the lack of progress in repairing NYCHA buildings damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) allocated $3 billion for the repairs in 2015, subject to the BCTC’s PLA. Earlier this year, it was reported that only 25 percent of the money had been spent, yet construction at just one of the 33 sites had been “substantially” completed.