Peter Bohnof ,a Korean war veteran, has decided to enroll at Columbia University. A student at Columbia’s General Studies school, Bohnof moved to the east coast from California. He saw an opportunity to go to college at 50-years-old after being laid off as a commercial truck driver. Life has been anything but a straight road. Once he finished his overseas commitment in the Army, Bohnof went back to California joining a bike gang for a number of years and getting sucked into a whirlwind of drugs and alcohol. He attributed his addiction due to a lack of support from the military. However, he pulled himself out and is now enrolled as a film studies student at Columbia. This video documents the new chapter in his life.
This is a story published on Coveringbusiness.com referring to my experience mining the beat as a journalism student.
How to Find Valuable Sources on the Construction Beat
By Joshua Peguero
Columbia Journalism School C’12
Covering a construction project in New York City is deceptively difficult. Although there are plenty of people with strong opinions about the new Wal-Mart, Whole Foods or Trump Tower, the voices you want are rarely the ones willing to go on the record.
You can hardly blame them. For developers and investors, there’s a lot at stake. They have a lot riding on public opinion of their project. Laborers are typically tight-lipped out of fear of being fired or crossing their unions.
Yet getting people to open up is a critical skill for any journalist, and like most skills, this one can be learned. It starts with talking to the right people and getting them at the right time.
Here are few sources to reach out to when covering a construction project in a big city like New York.
Get Inside the Hardhat
Construction workers can add color and help humanize a piece. They also know first-hand the hazards involved in their project, such as faulty equipment or safety shortcuts. Construction workers are often reluctant be interviewed on site because of union regulations. Find a place they’re willing to talk. Hang out where they go for lunch or dinner. Because union rules forbid many workers from speaking to media, expect to conduct early interviews anonymously or on background.
Rain and thunder poured heavily. The cloudy sky, darkened Annunciation Church on this Sunday as candles lit the row of seats and the dome-like ceiling. Inside, those weathering the storm heard the words of Reverend Jose Clavero praising one of the church’s fallen stars. He spoke at the top of his lungs not letting his voice get drowned out by the pelting rain.
Standing in the center he recollected the memories of Jonathan de la Rosa a former altar boy. This church gave Jonathan another home. His family sat huddled in the front row. His grandparents and aunt flew from the Dominican Republic to attend. They embraced one another, wiping away the incessant tears of losing their angel.
Disillusionment set in among family and friends on how a 24-year-old attending community college part-time and working full-time at Columbia University could be fatally stabbed, while leaving a nightclub in Washington Heights, then left for dead in the streets as he yelled for help in agony.
Construction costs in New York City have put projects on hold and workers on the unemployment line.
To find employment opportunities, nonunion and union construction workers have turned to construction coalitions. These community-based organizations require weekly dues and use several tactics to get their members hired onto a work site; the most common is a van showing up with members to protest or disrupt the project’s work flow.
But these tactics have led to the indictment of many coalitions.
James Haughton, a prominent civil rights figure, operates the Economic Employment Council out of his Tribeca loft. Started in 1974, this construction coalition began at a time when racism was prevalent amongst trade unions, and, as he says, the AFL-CIO was not responding to the interest of inner city minorities.
“The basic trend was to the old adage; black folk were the last hired first fired, and that was true for most of the general contractors,” says Mr. Haughton, 81. A spinal cord disease prevents him from leaving his apartment on 135 Duane Street. Inside the caste-iron facade building, books stacked ceiling-high allows him to pass the days time reading. “We need the young folk to understand the nature of our historical entrapment.“
His only companion is a Haitian home attendant who visits his apartment daily.
“He old now. He talk to himself because he got no friends,” says Carla, his home attendant, washing dishes in the sink. He looks at her, turning down his reading glasses. She rolls her eyes. “But god bless his soul, everyday he reads his books.”
After fighting in the Korean War, Mr. Haughton moved to Chicago and two years later joined the Negro American Labor Council alongside A. Philip Randolph, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. He left the group in the mid seventies, and started Harlem Fight Back inside the now shuttered Mart 125, which closed its doors in the late 90s and is owned by the Economic Development Corporation. Mr. Haughton no longer walks around Harlem to “shape jobs”; a tactic when construction coalition members show up at a job site and force the foreman into hiring their employees through non violent, or in some cases violent, means.
He saves the shaping process for his director. “We have enough people living in streets and we have enough constructions workers living in their cars. We’re focusing on trying to get work and training for construction workers,” says Reggie Owens, Director of Economic Employment Council and Mr. Haughton’s likely successor. “Construction workers are facing severe hardships.”
Along the Brooklyn waterfront, the sun settles into the Hudson. The Williamsburg Bridge’s shadow covers Kent Avenue’s tight alleyways. Under the bridge, rests Ran Tea House between South 1st and 2nd Street on Kent.
This part of Williamsburg, a representation of the neighborhood’s industrial past, hides itself from the commercial shops on Bedford Avenue. The Domino Factory represents the last attempt to transform a Brooklyn rapidly gentrifying and people moving in, but not leaving, according to New York census records.
Ran Tea House moved to that spot in anticipation of the Domino development. Two glass doors welcome visitors as the sun’s rays point at its patio. Two native Chinese artists run the Tea House opening it six months ago. They say starting the place, which underwent two months of renovation, was a means to bring “a new energy” to Brooklyn.
Inside its wood decorated panels along with reclining wood string chairs create a traditional, eastern Asian ambiance. The two artists intended to create a muse for artists and musicians to practice their work. Various types of exotic, imported teas are displayed on the bar. It is a unique establishment, serenaded in its foreign ways.
The owner, who goes by the name of Lotus, 23, says the Domino factory’s development and condominiums will only help his business grow. “I came to Brooklyn because of the culture. It is the place to be.”
Here’s a great labor related story written by Bloomberg Businessweek’s Assistant Managing Editor, Paul M. Barrett. It’s on a bed investment Bain Capital made, and the hardships it caused a collective of factory workers. Randy Johnson, a factory worker in Marion, Indiana lost his job after Bain Co., under Romney’s leadership, purchased American Pad & Paper in 1992. The company filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy two years later.
For the Romney campaign, Johnson’s story provides a political throne to his presidential run. Johnson fist appeared in the political arena during the CEO’s initial campaign to contest Senator Edward Kennedy’s Massachusetts seat. Romney operated Bain Co. as a Leverage Buy Out (LBO) firm; what’s now considered a Private Equity Firm. After purchasing the company, he loaded Ampad with 2150 percent more debt in one year. It was done to prepare it for an Initial Public Offering (IPO).
The article adds more questions to Romney’s claim as a job creator. Below is a quote that succinctly summarizes the LBO business:
Marc Wolpow, a former Romney colleague at Bain, defends the buyout business as promoting American competitiveness. The main goal at buyout firms, however, is never maximizing employment, he says. It’s maximizing returns for investors.
Not all of his time at Bain Co. was negative. He invested the seed money to get Staples, a low-cost office supply company, off the ground. The company now employs over 50,000 workers.
To read the article click here.
A video produced by Al Jeezra English’s Fault Lines on the decline of labor unions. Worth a watch.
The decline of labour unions in the US
For decades, labor unions in the United States have been on the decline. While they are widely credited with boosting safety standards and worker pay, many have received blame for wanting too much in the struggling economy. Unemployment is at 9% and people are clamoring for jobs, unionized or not. And their greatest political ally, the Democratic party, has taken its’ support for granted weakening its’ pull on the strings of power in Washington, DC.
A new battle has emerged in 2011 as Republican governors have taken on public sector unions, in some cases stripping them of rights that have been in place for 50 years. It’s part of a trend that is happening in key swing states and may weaken democratic voting strength in next year’s presidential election. But organized labor has fought back hard. In Wisconsin unions occupied the state capitol as 100,000 protesters took to the streets. In Ohio, voters overturned a law that was intended to greatly reduce the right that unions have in that state to bargain collectively.
Now as Occupy Wall Street galvanizes Americans to take action against financial institutions and big corporations, Labor has a new ally. But can organized labor harness the anger that everyday Americans are emitting or will this opportunity pass it by? Do Labor unions still have the strength to organize or has their power waned to the point that they will no longer be a major player in American politics?
This episode of Fault Lines first aired on Al Jazeera English on December 19, 2011 at 2230 GMT.
Here’s the video I found on Tumblr that inspired my investigation and writing into what’s happening in Pomona College. Oddly, the same Carmen cited in the New York Times article, is the same one used in the video. But i caught whim of discrepancies surfacing themselves. Above, she says receiving $11 an hour after eleven years as a cook. However, in the article that “Carmen” says she makes $17 an hour and lives with an American born husband.
Pomona Fires Latino Workers
In the midst of a union-organizing drive, “liberal” Pomona College demands documents of workers. Workers had been at Pomona for years, some decades. Pomona College’s Board is led by Goldman Sachs executive Paul Efron. Find out more JusticeatPomona.org