NYC construction grinds to a halt

TESS VIGELAND: Work has come to a sudden halt at hundreds of big construction sites across New York City, including the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero. Union workers who run cranes and other heavy equipment walked off the job. Officials say the number of construction sites affected could mushroom after the Fourth of July holiday. Our New York bureau chief Bob Moon joins us. Hey Bob.

BOB MOON: Hey, Tess.

VIGELAND: I understand you haven't had a whole lot of luck today trying to reach anybody about progress on a new contract agreement. How about city leaders. Are they worried about the effects of this strike, I presume?

MOON: Well, if they're worried about an economic impact, they aren't telling us. In fact, the mayor's office told us this afternoon the government projects involve — mostly involve — state projects. And they suggested we call the state for comment. But we haven't been able to get through.

And it's not just a few city or state projects we're talking about here. A couple thousand of the engineers who operate the heavy equipment are on strike. But if this stretches on, it shuts down major construction projects across the city, and we're hearing that tens of thousands of workers could be off the job here.

VIGELAND: Bob, what's the big sticking point here? Money? Always an issue in contract talks?

MOON: Yeah. Our calls weren't returned today but the managing director of the General Contractors Assn. of New York is quoted as saying that the basic pay scale for these operating engineers is between $72 and $82.65 an hour. Of course, they don't always work a lot of hours, if they get rained out or whatever. Well, the union has rejected a five-year contract with a 6 percent increase per year. The contractors say some of those workers do little more than turn lights on and off. The union has said that it wants to make sure that members who lose jobs get phased out and get adequate retraining.

VIGELAND: And, as we mentioned, this is yet another delay in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site.

MOON: That's right. Almost five years have passed and there's still mainly just a big pit there. In fact, a few weeks ago they removed a cornerstone that had been laid a couple of years ago for that 1,776-foot Freedom Tower. The explanation was that the plans keep changing so much that they figured it was better to start from scratch.

VIGELAND: Alright, Marketplace's Bob Moon joining us from New York. Thanks, Bob.

MOON: Thanks, Tess.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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