Building Trades Council, PHA strike ‘monumental’ construction deal

Philadelphia’s building-trades unions traded lower wages for guaranteed jobs;  in exchange, affordable housing will be less costly to build for the Philadelphia Housing Authority.



According to the deal struck on Thursday, the Building and Construction Trades Council promised a 20 percent reduction in labor wages in return for long-term construction job guarantees.

At least $100 million worth of affordable housing construction projects could be awarded over the next five years, said Pat Gillespie, council business manager.

“It’s a substantial amount of jobs,” said Gillespie. “More importantly, we’ll be able to enlist people from various communities into the trades, and also get people into adequate housing. It’s kind of cool.”

Calling it a “monumental” deal, PHA President Kelvin Jeremiah said that cheaper labor will enable PHA to build six family homes for the price of five.

“We have a very ambitious development agenda that calls for the preservation and construction of some 6,000 units of affordable housing over five years,” said Jeremiah. “The reduction in labor cost allows us to build more.”

It will be more than current building-trades union members who benefit from the new arrangement. Twenty-five percent of the new construction jobs are guaranteed to go to current PHA residents.

As part of the agreement, an “incubator” program designed to train women who are entering the trades field will be reintroduced after it was dismissed a few years ago.

In 2012, when Jeremiah served as executive director of the PHA, he was forced to eliminate 335 provisional union maintenance jobs. Under the new deal, building-trades unions will have first crack at any provisional worker jobs when needed.

“One of the things you can’t harbor is grudges because all of us have made mistakes,” said Gillespie. “He made a whopper there, but you can understand his thinking, that there wasn’t anything of value in this place and he had to redo everything. I was glad to see the training program reinstituted.”

PHA has given no indication when projects under the new agreement will begin, but Gillespie anticipates that it will be soon.

“We’re at the ready,” said Gillespie. “We have people who are, unfortunately, unemployed right now who are ready to go.”

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