NY Minutes: Fat Cats and Righteous Rats

"
Ratting on the fat cat over the road on 21st and 10th Ave, Chelsea, Manhattan.
Have you seen this large inflatable rat around town? I always thought it was a giant advertising balloon for a vermin extermination company doing their mouse-mulching in the building immediately behind. Clever!

But no - it's actually the protest mascot of construction industry unions.

"Come in! Take photos!" said a picketer in a hardhat plastered with a  "UNION" sticker when I stopped by with that typical "what's up with that?" expression on my face.

He pointed across the road to a wooden skeleton of a building alive and crawling with the sound of hammers and hi altitude girder-walkers.


"The owner is employing non-union workers at minimum wage, like five bucks, no benefits."

I looked around at the apparently unionized throng languishing behind the barricade, all dressed up, iphoning, and nowhere to jackhammer.

"A union member gets paid a proper wage, and full medical benefits," said a bloke shaped not unlike the 18ft mascot itself. "Flash" - as he called himself - strode about blowing on a whistle intermittently.

"So how much does it cost to join the union?" I asked.

"$35 per month."

"And how much are union workers then paid?"

"$44 per hour."

Holy hardhat! Pass me that pipe coupler!

"Those guys, " - Flash motioned with a finger - "a lotta them are self taught handy men jack of all trades. They don't know how to do it right. We're trained."

Another picketer from Canada piped up, "the big boss is in talks over there right now. We're hoping it'll happen."

Today?

"We been here 2 weeks."

Switching the subject slightly, I wondered aloud about women construction workers - are they any?

"We have some women in the business, and getting more and more, but there are no women over there," said Flash, motioning across the road in Ratsville.

I admit I've often passed the Non-Traditional Employment for Women office up the street and wondered if that could be another tile in my crazy-paved career. But look at me - 5 feet nothing with arms like twigs ...

"Not all construction jobs need strength - look, I'm a pipefitter," someone added.

The Rat vs the Fat Cat on 21st and 10th Ave, Chelsea, Manhattan. You can see the rat in the shade on the right.

"So why don't those guys join the union? Are they illegal immigrants?" I asked.
Shrugs all around.

Well, I guess in this climate, the scramble for whatever available jobs is intense. The human instinct is to survive and hopefully thrive, and avoid standing in the longest line in NYC ... 

MOVIE: Longest Line in NYC

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