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WEEKDAY MAGAZINE – Construction Jobs for Bronxites

Construction on a building in Bedford Park (photo: Gary Axelbank)

by By Clark Peña

January 29, 2019

Construction Industry’s Shift to Open Shop Means More Good Jobs for Bronxites

It’s no secret that the Bronx is in the midst of a building boom that is driving economic growth across the borough. But the biggest question on the minds of many stakeholders is about how this new activity can translate into more good jobs and career opportunities for Bronx residents.

We believe that when new buildings go up in the Bronx, a significant number of the construction jobs should go to local residents – not just to workers from outside the city. That is because real estate development is only truly productive when it also provides new opportunities for those who are already living and raising families in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The good news here is that the construction industry’s shift to the open shop model is opening new doors for Bronxites to secure jobs, earn good wages and benefits, and get on a path to the middle class. It’s time for our elected officials at the city and state level to do more to support that progress and ensure it continues over the years to come.

Construction on a building in Bedford Park (photo: Gary Axelbank)

Let’s recall some context around this shift to the open shop, especially because it has much to do with addressing a problem that’s been articulated by Bronx community leaders for many years. Stakeholders across the borough know all too well that, historically, the biggest obstacles to local hiring on construction projects have involved barriers to entering the construction industry.

For example, a real estate developer or city officials could begin a new development and claim there will be opportunities for construction jobs for Bronx residents. But once those residents apply, they may be told that they are simply not qualified for any of those construction jobs because they are not in a union and, as such, do not have the proper apprenticeship credits or training to even be considered.

For years, there were few answers to this problem other than to simply wait for the next project or attempt to get the relevant training or union accreditation, both of which can be costly and extremely difficult to come by. The result was that many construction sites in the Bronx haven’t reflected the borough’s diversity and were often populated by workers from Connecticut, New Jersey or the suburbs in Long Island or Westchester.

But the shift to open shop in today’s construction industry means that more developers and contractors are no longer relying on the union model and are instead working with safe, quality subcontractors who are focused on opening up the industry to those who have been left behind by the union trades and their apprenticeship requirements.

The result now is that the open shop has provided for a much more diverse and locally based workforce.Three out of four workers at open shop construction sites in New York City are of minority backgrounds and actually live in urban neighborhoods, which are much more aligned with the diversity of the Bronx.

The growth of this new construction model has also meant more support for the workers who are building projects in the Bronx and across the city. New safety and skills training programs are making it possible for more men and women of all backgrounds to enter the industry. Notably, open shop workers are making a living wage of at least $20 per hour, even on entry-level jobs, and those workers are also gaining access to 401k packages and health care programs that help them more in the long run.

The challenge now is that not enough elected officials and community leaders in the Bronx are talking about the open shop and providing more resources to ensure it can expand and create more opportunities for local residents. That will only change if we raise our voices on this issue. We look forward to making this a priority for the borough in 2019 and we are excited for what the future holds.

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Clark Peña is Director of Advocacy for the Construction Workforce Project, a nonprofit advocating on behalf of open shop and merit-based hiring in New York City’s construction industry. 

To submit writing for publication on WEEKDAY MAGAZINE, click here.  Fiction, non-fiction, commentary, news, news analysis, and poetry are welcome.  Bronx slant always preferred.

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