Navigating the New York Housing Authority (NYCHA) Red Hook Housing Project at 495 Columbia Street in Brooklyn can be a little disorienting, kind of like being in a game of Pac-Man. Council Reps Mangito Fowlkes of Local 157, and Phil Fiorentino of Local 45 guided us through the makeshift corridors that section off the various construction zones and residential towers, as dozens of NYCHA residents hurriedly walked their dogs and pulled their grocery carts. It’s clear that this isn’t a small-time job. The scale is grand and the impact that union carpenters are having is life-changing for thousands of people for generations to come. The project is expected to top $1B when it is completed in 2024.
Since the project to modernize infrastructure broke ground in 2019, over 50 NYC Carpenters Union carpenters, dockbuilders, and timbermen have been employed by our pro-union signatory contractor, Adam’s European Construction, and have worked diligently to bring the utilities from below ground in the basement to above the flood line, protecting them from major storms.
“This is a Sandy recovery project funded by New York City and the federal government. In the future, if we have another hurricane this area won’t suffer the damage it suffered from Sandy,” said General Foreman Michael Mugford, Local 45.
Michael is referring to iconic Superstorm Sandy that wreaked havoc on the New York City area 10 years ago and left thousands of NYCHA Red Hook residents without power, heat, water, and access to food, supplies, and medical assistance for more than two weeks.
The Red Hook complex is NYCHA’s largest housing complex in Brooklyn, spanning 39 acres and built on reclaimed land near the water. During the destructive storm the neighborhood’s infrastructure suffered dramatically, with virtually all basement mechanical rooms destroyed.
John Bridgeman, Local 926, is the shop steward on the NYCHA Red Hook infrastructure project and when asked about the impact he and the other union members are having through their work he said, “This project is important to the community. The water sewage is bad, so this is improving their livelihood.”
To ensure that the development’s 6,000 residents are protected in the future, the members of the NYC Carpenters union are constructing two freestanding buildings for above ground boilers that incorporate community amenities in their design.
Jasmine Kenchen, Local 157, cuts steel studs and track for framing on Building 22 at the Red Hook complex and is one of two sisters currently on site. She said, “I love everything about this job. On this project, we’re bringing the mechanicals of the above ground to better serve the tenants.”
Jasmine and her fellow union carpenters are responsible for constructing fifteen utility buildings that will house heat, electricity, and a backup generator, further decentralizing the infrastructure and decreasing the chance of widespread utility failure.
This work is a result of political wins from months of the union collaborating with legislators and NYCHA officials to pass the NYCHA Preservation Trust legislation. NYS Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the bill into law on June 16, 2022. This will ensure that public housing jobs are covered under a Project Labor Agreement (PLA), rather than being given to private developers. The PLA will set wage standards that protect the careers of approximately 8,000 union workers who currently work for NYCHA. This victory will lead to increased market share and more work for our members.