EAST VILLAGE — Labor union and workers' rights representatives have joined the fight to salvage a row of pre-war buildings slated for demolition to make way for a controversial hotel development, saying the contractor carrying out asbestos abatement on the site has a shoddy record of safety and labor relations.
New York Insulation, which is currently removing asbestos from the structures at 112-120 E. 11th St. ahead of a planned full demolition, has a history of failing to pay its workers fair wages, according to documents on file with the New York State Department of Labor, which has banned the contractor from bidding on public projects through May 8, 2020 after it pleaded guilty to wage fraud.
The contractor pleaded guilty in 2012, and, in addition to the five-year ban from the DOL, was forced to cough up more than $30,000 in back wages to six employees it had failed to compensate in addition to a hefty fine to Nassau County for the violation, according to a report.
Yet the contractor was tapped by the Lightstone Development Group to help remove asbestos from the five 19th Century tenement buildings in preparation for its plan to knock it down and replace it with a Marriott Hotel.
Protesters are redoubling efforts to solicit a mayoral intervention after their plea to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to preserve the buildings was snubbed.
Protesters who rallied outside the site on Wednesday pointed to the chosen contractor's history of withholding wages from laborers and purportedly unsafe practices in addition to the loss of housing and historic structures.
"This deal is so bad on so many levels," said State Sen. Brad Hoylman, who was joined by Councilwoman Rosie Mendez and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick.
"First of all, they're going to demolish neighborhood character. Secondly, they're going to demolish five historic buildings. Third, they're going to demolish good-paying union jobs, and fourth they're going to demolish New York's commitment to organized labor through this project."
Organized labor reps also pointed to DOL papers indicating New York Insulation workers had not followed proper protocol in removing asbestos in the past, exiting the worksite dry instead of thoroughly showering while still wearing a respirator in order to remove any clinging toxic particles.
"Removing asbestos dry causes cancer," said Abraham Hernandez of Laborers' Local 78, which represents thousands of workers who handle asbestos and other hazardous materials. "People are dying...And it's not only the workers that work in the sites. If they don't properly follow the rules and regulations that keep them safe, they come and get on the train where they're next to you, next to kids, bringing the asbestos fibers in their clothes."
Members of Local 78 held signs stating "Wage Theft is a Crime," and stacked black coffins emblazoned with the words "Asbestos + Greed = Death." They were joined by representatives of a local chapter of Metallic Lathers & Reinforcing Ironworkers, as well as New York City District Council of Carpenters.
But a mayoral representative stated the contractor is certified by New York State to perform asbestos abatement and filed proper paperwork with the city's Department of Environmental Protection for the work. A DEP inspector was to visit the site on Thursday, according to the mayor's office.
New York Insulation and the Lightstone Group did not immediately return requests for comment.
Neighborhood groups first tried to save the buildings in June with a letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, asking the agency to consider designating the block between Third and Fourth Avenues a historic district — a pitch put forth by the commission itself during a 2008 East Village rezoning, according to documents on file with the Department of City Planning.
The designation would have preserved the buildings' facades, prohibiting demolition, though it would not have mandated their use as housing units.
But the commission ultimately decided the block did not meet the standards necessary for a historic designation, leaving the structures vulnerable to the wrecking ball.
The now-vacated row of buildings contained five rent-stabilized units, according to Hoylman.
The Lightstone Group has filed demolition permits with the Department of Buildings, but the permits have not yet been issued, according to the DOB.
But as long as the structures are still standing, it is not too late for the city to intervene, said the gathered groups and politicians, who committed to putting continued pressure on Mayor de Blasio to take action.
"It is not too late," said Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, one of the groups that first implored the LPC to save the structures. "We've been asking the mayor for months to do the right thing. It is now the 11th hour. These buildings are either going to be preserved, or they're going to come down very soon."
A mayoral spokeswoman reiterated the LPC's ruling, stating the commission had had its decision against preservation independently.
“The Landmarks Preservation Commission makes independent decisions based on its criteria and expertise,” said mayoral spokeswoman Melissa Grace.