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Unions ink Willets Pt. deals

The city has made agreements with several labor unions in recent weeks guaranteeing that their workers will be involved in all aspects of the proposed Willets Point redevelopment if it is approved, the city Economic Development Corporation announced this week.

In a letter to the New York City Central Labor Council, which represents more than 1.2 million workers in various trades in the city, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber outlined plans for the city to heavily employ union workers in both the construction of the project and the service and retail jobs that will be created subsequently.

"I think this is a historic agreement in many ways," said Stuart Applebaum, president of the Retail Wholesale Department Store Union. "I think that what the city is saying is that economic development just for the sake of producing jobs no matter what the nature of those jobs are is no longer sufficient."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been seeking to transform Willets Point by removing the more than 250 businesses that currently exist on the 60-acre swath of land, conducting an extensive environmental remediation and building a sprawling mixed-use development that would feature more than 5,000 units of housing and more than 1 million square feet of retail and office space.

"The redevelopment of Willets Point reimagines what is today a polluted and contaminated site into a thriving mixed use neighborhood, and this agreement with organized labor is an important step towards realizing that vision," said Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber.

City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst), who represents Willets Point and pulled his support of the project in February citing several concerns, said the agreement "is a step in the right direction." He said he hopes similar progress will be made with other aspects of the project.

"As with any project of this size, the redevelopment of Willets Point is a continuing dialogue," Monserrate said.

In the agreement, reached in April but not announced until last week, the city pledges to utilize union labor during the construction of the project, require the selected developer to pay the prevailing wage to service workers and security guards employed once the project is completed, discourage generally non-union big-box retail stores and work to maximize the number of jobs in the commercial and retail sectors of the project that include a wage of at least $10 per hour.

The city's Willets Point redevelopment project is currently undergoing the public review process and Community Board 7 is expected to take its non-binding vote on June 30. The City Council is expected to vote on the project as early as November.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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