Construction Workers Rally for Hope and Opportunity in Redwood City
Hundreds of building trades union members rallied at the jobsite of the new housing development in Redwood City being built by BRE. The developer has gained notoriety for using non-union contractors and construction crews and paying well below the area standard wages to build hundreds of units in Redwood City and around the Bay Area.
San Mateo Building Trades Council Business Manager Bill Nack
San Mateo Building Trades Council Business Manager Bill Nack told the workers, elected officials and affordable housing advocates that the rally was for hope and opportunity because, “Our communities in San Mateo County are changing, with tens of thousands of new residents and billions of dollars in new construction. With billions being invested into our communities and with cities rewriting their policies to accommodate this growth, there is hope we can address some very fundamental issues for working families in this county. But hope and opportunity are not enough. It is only by our community involvement that we will make the housing and local jobs that working people must have a reality.”
Redwood City Councilmember Jeff Gee said the city had started formulating a vision for Redwood City 15 years ago along with the business community and labor. “I’m excited to see the vitality and the renaissance going on now,” Gee said. “Downtown Redwood City is no longer ‘deadwood city.’ We need more housing. Depot Circle will break ground, and you will have a piece of it.” Gee said the city council had begun discussions about community benefits agreements for projects being built in Redwood City. “The process must include the community, environmentalists, affordable housing advocates, seniors, public transit advocates, labor, and business,” Gee said. He said the city was learning from other communities that had established community benefits agreements and that, “We want to put one together here in Redwood City and we want you to be part of that effort.”
Representing the faith community, Pastor Derek Harmon of Messiah Lutheran Church in Redwood City decried the wealth disparity in the U.S. and San Mateo County and said, “We need more support for social services along with affordable housing and fair wages. We in the faith community stand in solidarity with you.”
Redwood City resident Juan Chavez, a member of Sprinklerfitters Local 483, said that he would like to be able to work in the city where he lives but now drives an hour and a half to work outside the area. He said BRE needs to hire more union workers.
Alfredo Perez, an ironworker from southern California, said he and other ironworkers were at the protest to call attention to their strike against the non-union contractor Millennium Reinforcing. He said the southern California subcontractor for BRE doesn’t pay area standard wages or benefits. “There is a large divide between rich and poor in this country that is growing every day. Companies like Millennium are making it worse.” Perez said workers who build expensive apartments should get fair wages and benefits to be able to support their families. “We are here to stand with the community in struggle for social justice,” Perez said.
State Senator Jerry Hill was introduced by Bill Nack as a strong supporter of organized labor and someone who listens to the concerns of working people. Hill noted that, “Sacramento is providing incentives for infill housing, but we need to also have prevailing wages. We need more affordable housing and good jobs that pay good wages. How are you going to pay for the housing if you can’t afford it because of no work or low pay?”
SMCLC Executive Secretary-Treasurer Shelley Kessler echoed Hill’s remarks, saying that while development is booming, “We need these jobs to be paying the construction workers the good wages they need to live in our community. We need housing that is affordable for teachers, nurses and service workers. These projects should be a benefit for all, not just to line the pockets of Corporate America.” Kessler said she was pleased that there were elected officials in the county like Jerry Hill who know that workers living in the most expensive county in the U.S. need a livable wage.
Diana Reddy, an affordable housing advocate with the Housing Leadership Council, said that her parents had been able to buy a house in Redwood City many years ago for $13,000. At the time, her parents earned $18,000 a year. The ratio of what people earned and the cost of housing was much closer and housing was more affordable to working class and middle class families. “We had an inclusive community,” she said, with a mix of different income levels. “Now housing is so expensive that 80 percent of workers commute, and the lowest paid commute the farthest,” she said. Reddy noted that there are two thousand units of housing planned for Redwood City but with very little affordable to workers earning less than $85,000 a year. “With the loss of redevelopment, we no longer have the tools to ensure that affordable housing is built,” she said. “Other cities have enacted policies to support affordable housing development. We need to let the city council know that a true community benefit would include all residents and return Redwood City to the inclusive community that I remember.”
San Mateo County Supervisor Warren Slocum said that the project at 640 Veterans Blvd was indicative of what’s going on in Redwood City. “There’s a boom, with thousands of units being built, and according to the Association of Bay Area Governments, the growth will continue in all the nine Bay Area counties,” Slocum said. “It’s important that all elected officials realize we have a very important responsibility to give birth to a community benefits agreement as South San Francisco is doing. It’s vital for all of us. The development should create a diverse housing stock, not just homes for the wealthy.”
Slocum noted that in East Palo Alto, North Fair Oaks and other parts of the county, unemployment is still high. He said, “We need to support apprenticeship programs and local hiring that will benefit local workers and their communities.”
Sheet Metal Workers 104 Business Manager Bruce Word said his union had called for the rally because, “The Sheet Metal Workers have a problem with BRE.” Word said that, “We had 35 percent unemployment for two years. Now work is picking up, but some developers are not on board with providing community benefits or paying prevailing wages. They need to change their business model, to come back to the community and share their wealth. We are fighting to revitalize the middle class.”
SMBCTC’s Bill Nack closed the rally and commented that, “When I started our program today I said that opportunity and hope were not enough and that action was needed. When we leave today there are things we must do if we are to realize the promise that all these billions in development could bring us. One, we have to make sure good community leaders who support issues important to all of us, not just some of us, but all of us. We need to make sure those leaders get elected and when the time comes they get re-elected.
“We must get active in our communities to make sure the rules on how our cities grow encourage good middle class jobs, the right kind of housing, good transit and places for our kids and families to relax and enjoy each other. To get both of these things done, we need to work together in new ways such as forming coalitions with other community-based organizations like we have done in South San Francisco where as a broad coalition, we developed a Community Benefits Platform to be included in the South San Francisco Downtown Station Area Plan. We are preparing to do the same thing here in Redwood City, and San Mateo, and Millbrae, and San Bruno. Eventually we plan to have a Community Benefits Program in place in every city in San Mateo County. So, when your union calls, rise to occasion as you did today, become active.”
Unions represented at the rally included Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, Ironworkers Local 377, IBEW Local 1245 and 617, Plumbers Local 467, Sprinklerfitters Local 483, Glaziers Local 718, Operating Engineers Local 3, Laborers Local 261, Plasterers Local 66, Carpenters Local 217, Painters and Tapers Local 913, Carpet and Floor Layers, Machinists Local 1414, Office and Professional Employees Local 3, and American Federation of Teachers Local 3267.