NYC Developers Are Looking to Build the Tallest Residential Building in the Western Hemisphere -- with Non-Union Labor

The city's latest hulking symbol of neoliberalism will literally cast a shadow on Central Park.

Aerial view of Harlem River and bridges with the Bronx and Manhattan buildings in New York City.
Photo Credit:

According to city records, a proposed NYC luxury tower is set to become the tallest residential building in the western hemisphere, reaching over 1,420 feet into the air. It would be erected on 57th Street, in an area people are already referring to as “Billionaires’ Row.”

The tower will house just one apartment per floor and sell for over $6,000 a foot. If built, the structure will be a massive reminder of the city’s inequality gap, not just to those who walk past it, but for many who visit Central Park. Through “air rights,” New York developers have found a way to get around zoning laws, thus reaching higher and higher into the sky without public review. As a result, Billionaires’ Row is set to cast massive shadows over the southern side of the park.

In 2013, the Municipal Art Society released a report on the forthcoming darkness, and its president, Vin Cipolla, lamented the current state of affairs: “It’s troubling that the sky's the limit when it comes to one of our most precious public spaces. We need to protect these spaces.”

The proposal is also causing concern for another reason; the plan to build the tower relies on non-union labor. Public advocate Letitia James recently wrote a letter to the two NYC developers, JDS Development and Property Market Group, encouraging them to reconsider using non-union labor to construct an 80-story West Side tower. “I would urge you to consider an organized workforce that is adequately trained and fairly compensated,” she wrote.

Earlier in the year, Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council, declared that, “This is a needle in the haystack—an experiment more than anything else." While the tower might, in fact, be an experiment, it certainly isn’t the first time its project’s principals have used non-union labor. In 2008, JDS’ Michael Stern and PMG’s Kevin Maloney, bought a Chelsea Verizon building and flipped it into the luxury condo, Walker Tower. A little over a year ago, Walker Tower sold for $50.9 million, becoming the most expensive property ever sold in downtown Manhattan. Stern and Maloney built it without using one union member. Stern is currently constructing two buildings on the East Side with non-union labor.

Louis Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers Association, recently pointed to a BTEA study which shows 75% of reported national construction fatalities take place at non-union sites. A 2013 OSHAreport, specific to NYC construction, found that 72% of New York construction deaths were on non-union projects.

Park Side Construction is one of the subcontractors working on the tower. Last fall, while working on a hotel, a slab of concrete crushed one of its workers to death. At the time of his death, the company had racked up thousands of dollars in safety violation fines. In 2013, Park Side was sued by the state of New York for its failure to pay over $174,000 in worker’s compensation. A tale of two cities, indeed.

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.

Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria