Union hardhats faced off against with stroller moms — and a half-dozen local elected officials — at rival protests in the footprint of the proposed Atlantic Yards project on Saturday.
The 800 union men — and one or two women — said they want the mega-development to proceed full steam ahead, while some 400 project opponents demanded a “time out” so that state authorities could renegotiate the “sweetheart” deal that is funneling an estimated $2 billion in taxpayer subsidizes to Ratner to build a bulky project that will tower over low-rise Prospect Heights.
“Ratner’s plan isn’t good for the neighborhood — it’s too big and it’s too expensive,” said Jane Buckwalter of Park Slope.
But even at the loudest moments of the “Time Out” rally, which featured many local politicians and live music, the larger, pro-Atlantic Yards counterprotest roared its support for the project that once called for a Frank Gehry-designed arena and a string of skyscrapers between Flatbush and Vanderbilt avenues, but has apparently been trimmed down to just the arena and two or three towers.
Even if the project is shrinking, union members say they’re ready to get started.
“It’s tough to find work right now,” said Mike Quinones, a member of the Local 926 United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America who is currently unemployed. “We want to see this project built because we need these jobs.”
Opponents agree that construction workers need jobs — they just want the workers constructing something else.
“Just because we don’t want the arena to happen doesn’t mean we don’t want development,” said Lillian Hope of Prospect Heights. “We’re not saying they shouldn’t have jobs. We just don’t want them working to build Ratner’s vision.”
Others said that union members should have joined the anti-Ratner rally, given that the developer originally promised 15,000 union construction jobs, but has since admitted that Atlantic Yards will employ 1,500 construction workers per year over its proposed 10-year buildout.
“Protest Ratner, he’s the one not building and he’s the one who proposed a project that couldn’t happen or get financing,” said Daniel Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.
Though Goldstein sought common ground, the standoff between camps was tense — especially when a group of protestors from the pro-Yards rally looped around the “Time Out” demonstration, surrounding the opponents of the project. Police officers, with plastic handcuffs dangling from their belts, formed a human wall that halted the energetic, though nonviolent, procession.
The large pro-Yards turnout was a result, in part, of union rules that require workers to participate in such protests.
“Every active member … will be called upon to contribute one day per calendar year … for picket duty,” reads the “mandatory union activities” page on the District Council of Carpenters’ Web site.
No elected officials joined the Yards supporters as they marched from Ratner’s Atlantic Terminal Mall to the site of the anti-Yards rally on Pacific Street.
Outnumbered but unfazed, opponents of Atlantic Yards alleged that the pro-Yards drew such large numbers because union members are required to march, but workers insisted that they weren’t compensated for their time.
“We’re not on the clock,” said carpenter Daniel Monjarrez. “We came out to make sure that this project gets built and that it gets union built. What did I get for coming? A T-shirt, that’s it.”