Big Pig Blasts Building-Boom Violations

Lucy Gellman PhotosFat Cat and Greedy Pig spent their lunch hour on one of downtown’s fastest-changing blocks to make a point about who’s benefiting from New Haven’s construction boom.

The inflatable ten-foot-tall protest critters showed up at the corner of Crown and High Streets Tuesday with eight members of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters (NERCC). Their goal: To draw attention to a state Labor Department stop work order issued this week to Hurricane Construction. The East Haven company was cited for failure to secure proper worker’s compensation and misrepresenting employees as independent contractors.

That order shut down work on 280 Crown Street, a parking garage set to become studio apartments. It is one of a slew of development projects converting a once-rundown block into an upscale block of new market-rate apartments and stores. And it prompted Tuesday’s protest.

Scruffy the Rat has been a favorite prop at these labor protests events. But it turns out that a real-life rat left the Scruffy riddled with holes. So the inflatable understudies crawled into action, and helped make the organizers’ point.

NERCC members spent the lunch hour speaking to passersby about Hurricane’s alleged process of misrepresenting employees as 1099 independent contractors, a process used to cut labor costs. Handing out fliers titled “Shame on Hurricane Construction/For Desecrating the American Way of Life,” NERCC researcher Danny Ravizza of New Haven expressed concern in the practices, which he said have become more common in the city as construction has boomed.

“It’s particularly concerning to me as a taxpayer and a resident, because you get hit on both sides,” he said. “You get hit on the economic recovery with the workers, and you get hit on the taxpayer side because when folks are misclassified as 1099 independent contractors, even though they’re being told how to work, when to work, where to work, and being told to follow all the rules of an employer, they’re not paying payroll taxes.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but our state is kind of in a budget crunch right now. So it’s incredibly concerning. To see these towers go up, to see these residential towers go up and all of ths construction happening downtown and throughout New Haven, you want that prosperity to be shared. For folks in my generation, this is sort of taken as a standard business practice. If there’s this much going on, we deserve to have it be done by responsible contractors.”

The contractor declined to respond to a request for comment. Robert Smith of Metro Star, the developer who hired Hurricane, said his company is reviewing Hurricane’s records and has so far found all to be legit.

Eye-Catching Cat

Construction worker Chris Martino, who has been doing subcontracted work with Hurricane for eight years through his company Angel Remodeling, was driving down Crown Street to get lunch when he saw the sun-soaked inflatable duo on the corner, bobbing slightly in the wind. He stopped his car and looked around.

“This is bullshit,” he declared of the protest, casting an angry glance at the farm animals towering above him. “Dude, this shit is wrong.”

Not so, insisted NERCC rep David Jarvis. Taking Martino aside, he said that the East Haven-based LLC is a repeat offender cited by the Labor Department, which has issued 17 stop work orders altogether downtown and around New Haven in the past two years.

“Once, it’s a mistake,” he said. “More than once, and it’s not a mistake anymore.” He encouraged Martino to look over the stop work order, a laminated red sheet tacked to the side of 280 Crown. Martino shook his head angrily and took cell phone pictures of it as the two spoke.   

“I’m really just wondering what’s going on,” he told the Independent after their exchange. “How we’re going to fix it if there is something wrong. That’s really what it is. We’ve got a lot of people that — they’re good workers, we try to put ‘em to work ... you obviously want to do it the right way, legally. So — our guys are good, they’re professional, but you’ve gotta have things the right way. I don’t know Chuckie [Coyle, owner of Hurricane Construction] to be the type of person to slight anybody or try to get it over on anybody, but that’s what they’re [NERCC] saying.”

Construction laborer Mike Armino, who was doing work downtown for Babbidge Construction, stopped to read a flyer and chat with NERCC members Tim Sullivan and Dean Pallotti, standing with literature at the corner.     

“I couldn’t miss this,” he said, motioning to both NERCC members and the cat and pig. “I had to see what was going on. Being in this business, it’s interesting to me to know what’s going on out here. There’s probably a lot of information that I can get out of this that doesn’t happen to me, things that don’t occur in my company.”

Behind him, a driver honked twice in solidarity, two quick, joyous beeps flying from the car. “Go get ‘em!” he yelled out his window.

Greedy Pig Attracts Questions

Most passersby walked quickly past the demonstration, some pausing to take a flyer while others crossed the street or snapped quick iPhone photos. A few out for lunch or a midday walk asked about the odd couple parked at the corner, their motors whirring away as they swayed above street level.

“Do they [Hurricane] harass their workers?” one woman (who asked not to be named) asked Ravizza.

“They misclassify their employees,” Ravizza said.. “What they say is: ‘I’m going to pay you as a 1099.’”

A few feet away from them, Fat Cat seemed to squeeze the inflatable construction worker in his paw a little tighter. Ravizza motioned to the stop work order as he spoke.

“I mean, do they get away with this all the time?” she asked. “I feel like if it’s this easy to get it stopped, do people think they can get away with this?”

Ravizza nodded. “It’s incredibly prevalent,” he said.

Lifelong New Havener Timothy Charles, an employee of Adkins Bee Removal who stopped by close to the end of the hour-long demonstration, didn’t need to be reminded of that. “Shit,” he said reading the flyer that Sullivan handed him. “I’ve been watching them [laborers] work their asses off. That’s insane.”

On Tuesday evening, MetroStar Founder Robert Smith responded with this statement:

“We require contractors working for us to provide insurance based on industry and government standards. Insurance policies and endorsements are checked every month prior to payment. We have reviewed in detail Hurricane’s insurance policies and found nothing incorrect or underinsured.

“Additionally, we mandate all contractor’s employees to be paid through payroll (not as subcontractors) and we monitor pay rates as compared to industry standards. Hurricane has provided all payroll records to the authorities and are waiting for the review to be completed. Hurricane expects all to be in order.

“We do appreciate the authority’s hard work and diligence regarding these matters.  We apologize for any disturbance for pedestrians walking Crown or High street today and we look forward to completing our project in the great City of New Haven.”

Chuck Coyle of Hurricane Construction did not respond to requests for comment.

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Comments

posted by: robn on June 8, 2016  7:59am

Not saying there’s no illegality but It seems unusual for a developer for a project of this size to mandate direct employment of all trades as opposed to allowing subcontracting. I wonder why?

posted by: jim1 on June 8, 2016  8:02am

Market rate apt.  ??!!  I am on SSA and get $1627.00 per x 12 = $19,524.00 What I call market rate is $$900.00 lets me have $727.00 for food, etc. I’M sure these will go for $3500 to 4500 per. Will make me move out of town.

posted by: HewNaven on June 8, 2016  9:22am

Apartments here start at $2,395.

http://metrostarproperties.com/metro-280-new-haven/

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on June 8, 2016  10:13am

jim1,

You never lived on this block and you never have to.

There are PLENTY of places in this town where people live within their means.

Downtown and it’s immediate surrounding area SHOULD be the most expensive markets, don’t you think?

Now imagine brand new construction in that area…that should also be pretty high compared to a 1950’s unit off exit 8.

You don’t have to leave, especially since you weren’t living in a parking garage or a Salvation Army before this!

posted by: Bradley on June 8, 2016  11:32am

theNewnewhaven, the issue is not that the developments downtown are charging market rents. As you note, no one is forced to live there. But there are few units anywhere in the city that are affordable for people in jim1’s position. The rule of thumb is that rent is affordable when it is no more 30% of gross income. For someone with an income of $20K, this is $500/month. Good luck finding an apartment at that rent. This is not an argument against the new developments, which I support. But they do very little to address the city’s affordable housing problem.

posted by: Noteworthy on June 8, 2016  12:03pm

Fat Cat and Greedy Pig should look in the mirror. The unions heavily influenced this city’s budget much to the chagrin of taxpayers.

posted by: HewNaven on June 8, 2016  12:54pm

there are few units anywhere in the city that are affordable for people in jim1’s position. The rule of thumb is that rent is affordable when it is no more 30% of gross income. For someone with an income of $20K, this is $500/month. Good luck finding an apartment at that rent.

Exactly right.

Which is why one has to laugh about any opposition the union “supermajority” on the board of alders. We’d all benefit from their platform to increase “good jobs” in the city (i.e. jobs that pay a living wage), and thus to increase home ownership, neighborhood stability, public education, public safety, etc.

If we leave it up to the business community, New Haven will continue to be more and more unaffordable to the working middle class. They will continue to flee to the suburbs for better schools and cheaper rent. New Haven will continue to be a “tale of two cities”:

1. Market-Rate (doesn’t make sense anymore for working middle class, esp. families) and
2. Subsidized (no choice but to stay in nhv, since suburbs don’t provide enough affordable housing)

What a great future!

posted by: robn on June 8, 2016  1:30pm

HEWNAVEN,

By my count it’s been 5 years of a local union supermajority on the BOA and I say times up. They’ve had plenty of time and have shown themselves only to be self-interested (like trading High Street to Yale during contract negotiations). And that’s actually giving them too much credit in the “do no harm” category. Mayor DeStefano teed up about 5 major projects before leaving office and only one (State and Lawrence) has moved forward after a painfully protracted and ultimately unproductive negotiation with a hostile BOA.

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on June 8, 2016  1:56pm

The only way to help with the rising or high rental prices in central New Haven is to BUILD MORE in Central New Haven.

These high end units will, as I’ve said over and over again, open up units that would otherwise go to those willing to pay more for convenience / amenities.

What the vacant units will provide is the possibility for those with a modest middle to move into them and THUS provide units available for those who otherwise would NOT be in this area.

I understand that it’s hard to provide for yourself as you age. My parents are dealing with this issue currently and I am helping them. I hate to think about what would happen if I didn’t.

I say keep up the construction boom, New Haven, and let’s prepare for the WELCOMED INFLUX of new people coming into our community. The more units we have, the better we will be when talking about the rental prices.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 8, 2016  2:22pm

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on June 8, 2016 10:13am

jim1,

You never lived on this block and you never have to.

There are PLENTY of places in this town where people live within their means

If this is true then how come the people of church street south can not find apartments? Some of them are moving out of this state.


My bad. Check this out even cats are being pushed out.

Now Displaced by New York’s Gentrification: Feral Cats

For nine years, Barbara Garber, Rebecca Wolf and other volunteers have been caring for feral cats on dead-end streets at the edge of Sunnyside Yards. Like the roughly 500 registered cat colonies across New York City, this cluster in Long Island City, Queens, fluctuates with the seasons and the years. Cats are regularly abandoned there or simply appear. They die of old age or are hit by vehicles on busy Jackson Avenue. Some give birth to new litters.

While the Police Department’s Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad has looked into what might have caused eight cats to disappear or die within two weeks this month, the people who have cared for them have their suspicions.

Around the time the cats living on Dutch Kills Street began to get sick or disappear, dozens of large plastic rat traps were scattered outside a new 26-story apartment building, Halo LIC, on Purves Street, one block over. Some of the traps had been cut, creating larger openings, and clumps of beige poison littered the pavement.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/24/nyregion/gentrifications-latest-victims-new-yorks-feral-cats.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

posted by: westville man on June 8, 2016  2:23pm

Are folks here really arguing that someone should be able to rent a privately owned apartment for $500 per month??  Perhaps government- owned, subsidized housing but not from a for profit owner. 

Market rate means market rate- what the market will bear. Affordable housing is not market rate.

NewNewhaven- are we seeing rents drop in cities like Brooklyn, Manhattan, Portland, ME where there’s a construction boom?  Quite the opposite, to my knowledge.

posted by: Bradley on June 8, 2016  4:06pm

theNewnewhaven, the filtering process you describe does work….in the long run. But as J.M. Keynes noted, in the long run we shall all be dead. In the shorter run, the new developments will free up somewhat less expensive units in neighborhoods like East Rock. This will help grad students and others of comparable incomes, but will do little to help low-income folks. The effect of the new units will eventually percolate down the rent heirarchy, but the process does have leaks as marginal units are taken off the market. The rent effects of new supply are also attenuated as New Haven attracts new residents. Again, none of this is an argument against the new developments. But they are hardly a panacea for the city’s housing problems.

posted by: HewNaven on June 8, 2016  4:46pm

Those old ritzy mansions in the Edgewood neighborhood are now occupied by a few middle-class families who work in New Haven and send their kids to our public schools. That only took 100 years to happen, so surely this current housing boom cannot fail us short-term. Everybody is a winner!  /sarcasm

posted by: FOLLOWTHEMONEY on June 8, 2016  5:34pm

Ok pick on this little guy, he is not perfect and needs to do this correctly or is this bully tactics by the union…How come the Independent has been 100 quit on those monster screw ups at CenterPlan…HMMMMMMM Pays to have dirt bags in high places… I don’t think this guy has ever done $60,000,000.00 in work total but CenterPlan has been scamming contractors all over the state. Hey Independent why don’t you do an expose on how many contractors have not or will not get paid just in New Haven by CenterPlan… Now there is a story…

posted by: newhallville1 on June 8, 2016  9:50pm

Politics, Greed and Corruption
The Carpenters Union and The State Labor Department conspires together taking down even Small Construction Businesses in there first year getting a big contract, Being merciless towards anyone in error, most small businesses often learn as they grow, the state should allow small businesses a deferred tax, (unemployment tax etc.).
The Carpenters Union and most of there Contractors like everything else does things the American way, which has a double standards for African Americans (Blacks, minorities, etc.), No Black Business Agents, get layoff more than any other ethnic group, lack of Advancement with contractors, only hired for quota requirements, and the list goes on and on.
If you want to become a union Contractor, WOW, you better have a lot of MONEY, the COST of doing business with these guys will kill you, Do Your research.
The REAL QUESTION is, WHY do The State Department of Labor LIES about This Contractors and Other Contractors not Having Worker Comp Insurance when ACTUALLY they DO have Workers Comp Insurance?
The State Dept. of Labor has immunity and abusing this power is what’s going on here!!!

posted by: ebw1957 on June 9, 2016  8:42am

The unions are down to 15% of the commercial construction industry in CT and there is a reason for that. They are fighting to stay relevant, and their high paid bosses employed.

Unions have never been able to compete on private projects because the owners are not bound by prevailing wage rules like publicly funded projects are.

Why does the media never ask- if a carpenter doesn’t like the wages he earns on this job- can’t he go JOIN THE UNION? The only problem is he won’t get off the bench.

A carpenter on a taxpayer funded project makes $45 per hour and gives the union 15%, on a private project he makes $40 per hour - about the same net.