BY YVETTE BROWN
On June 10, four construction workers walked off their job at the $875 million Long Island City Towers on on Jackson Avenue due to what they claim are low wages from their employer, Iconic Mechanical, and unsafe working conditions on the site, which is run by Turner Construction.
The four workers joined the Steamfitters Local 638 union three days later.
The men, Alex Xande, Yuriy Olefirenko, Ivica Juric-Marijanovic and Marjan Pejkovic, began work at a New York City School Construction Authority project on Monday, June 13, where they are building the largest school in Manhattan. They will be receiving paid area standard wages, they will receive health benefits and they will be properly protected by safety equipment.
“There was an issue there with some unsafe conditions on the job,” said James Sheeran Jr., the Steamfitters Local 638 organizer of the walk-out. “The job is a union job, but it has non-union workers on it. These non-union workers were subjected to unsafe conditions with the contractor. They were approached by myself, the organizer, [they sent] a resume to come forward and see if they would be interested in joining the union and by no surprise they were. After several interviews and lengthy interviews with my committee, we found out that there were still workers with standard skills that we were looking for. They were all welders, they were all good mechanics and we took their story and we believed they were being exploited on the job.”
Pejkovic said that while safety hazards and low wages were an issue, he was really focused on the benefits offered to the un-unionized workers.
Not only did they receive minimal benefits, but it was only active for the duration of one year. He also mentioned that health insurance was barely paid for by the company and “there [were] no pension plans, there was no security for me for the future or for my family,” he said.
He said that he and his fellow co-workers decided that enough was enough when they were approached by 638. Pejkovic said that the union asked the four men about what they were already receiving compared to what they could be receiving.
“In the end they care about their workers and they care to [keep us] secure,” said Pejkovic. “We had [our] work [speak for] us, so they recognized that and that was the main reason why they approached us.”
It wasn’t just their work that got them recognized, it turns out that while at that job site, they were the only four non-unionized workers on the site, but they were subcontracted by 355.
“They subcontracted us and said ‘okay they’re doing such a good job, better than some other union[ized] [workers]’ and that was [the motive] for them to start speaking to us,” said Pejkovic.
There have also been a few safety issues over the last few months over at the Jackson Avenue development, one of which was partially halted by the City because there was no fire suppression equipment available. The Department of Buildings has also issued violations, twice for “failure to safeguard all persons and property” on March 21 and May 16 and then again on May 4 for “failure to provide guard rails,” while the workers were working on the 12th floor.
“We are now the proud members of the 638 union and we have everything we need,” said Pejkovic.
Reach Yvette Brown at (718)357-7400 ext.128, email@example.com or @eveywrites.