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Regional Plan Association

With report, RPA wades into looming labor fights
By Benjamin Kabak

In a somewhat surprising move, the Regional Plan Association has joined with city business leaders to call for union concessions from organized construction workers. In a report released to the city yesterday and entitled “Construction Labor Costs in New York City — A Moment of Opportunity,” the RPA urged unions to accept reforms that would significantly cut costs at a time when major projects are in jeopardy over rising price tags. With the MTA’s own labor fights with transit workers looming, the RPA’s stance could have a major impact on future negotiations.

While the report isn’t yet available to the public, Charles Bagli of The Times offered up a summary. He reports that the study calls for “major concessions from the unions that dominate the construction industry.” It says that “cuts are needed to allow major projects to move forward” and calls for the reform by eliminating “obsolete work rules and featherbedding; by adopting a standard eight-hour day for all building trades; and by reducing benefit packages.”

Robert Yaro, head of the RPA, spoke out in favor of the report. “Given the wrenching changes in the real estate industry since the recession,” he said to The Times, “a growing number of builders have found that they can no longer support high labor costs…This is not about what union workers are paid. It’s about work rules and productivity. Those are things that should be changed.”

Bagli has more:

    The association’s report says developers and owners, who absorbed the higher costs of union labor during the real estate boom, are now under pressure to cut costs because of lower rents and stringent financing terms. But the report also says that leading developers and contractors are attached to union construction work, in part because “the best union labor continues to surpass nonunion in skills and productivity,” and because the jobs provide “a key channel of upward mobility for millions of Americans.”

    The report describes as archaic various provisions that unions have succeeded in keeping around, in contracts that were also signed by employers. These include the required presence of master mechanics and oilers for heavy equipment like cranes, which have become technologically advanced enough that the mechanics and oilers have very little work to do; and rules that say steamfitters, electricians and plumbers must always be around to monitor heat, electricity and water service, which the report likened to an apartment building having a full-time plumber rather than simply calling one when a leak occurs.

    The report also called for eight-hour shifts to officially begin when a worker reaches his station, not when he arrives at the ground level, an issue in tall construction sites where many men are using a few hoists to get to the floors where they are working.

Essentially, the RPA wants to see the difference between union and non-union expenditures drop to 10 percent from the current levels, which the organization says are closer to 20-30 percent.

The report, of course, is not without controversy. Union leaders say that the two primary authors, Julia Vitullo-Martin and Hope Cohen, are former Manhattan Institute conservatives who would prefer to see unions dismantled. Citing “Wisconsin” and “the Koch Brothers,” the Building and Construction Trades Council spoke out against the report.

Yet, despite these charges, the basic contours of the RPA study ring true. We’ve long heard about archaic work rules that limit productivity and flexibility and drive up costs. In an era of fiscal instability and across-the-board belt tightening, it’s not unreasonable to ask for rules that better reflect economic reality, and as the MTA readies to negotiate with its workers over very similar concerns, this RPA report will likely serve as a template for demands.

These battles — with the construction industry, with the TWU — will only get uglier as the year progresses. Few politicians have waded into the trenches yet, but someone might need to step in to negotiate a settlement that helps ensure both parties are protected. The near-term future of our transit agency may depend upon it.
Regional Plan Association
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Letter from the President

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to Regional Plan Association's web site. I hope that you will find it a helpful resource for information and a useful tool for two-way communication about our far reaching initiatives and programs.

In spring of 1929, Regional Plan Association released a monumental plan for New York and the surrounding metropolitan region. Only a few months later, financial havoc hit the markets and the United States plunged into the Great Depression.

To combat this crisis and restart the American economy, the federal government eventually started investing in programs to get people back to work and to build the systems we would need for future prosperity, including housing and communities, energy supply and hydroelectric dams, and roads and bridges. With the most comprehensive plan in the nation, New York successfully captured many of these federal dollars and built the regional systems that made our metropolis the world city it is today.

That's what the nation and the region need to do again, and that's RPA's agenda.

We are well aware of the current political and economic realities but we need to look beyond this short-term crisis to the region's long term needs. We must invest. In fact, in every recent recession, the government has invested in infrastructure to spur recovery.

We've started this conversation with decision makers here and around the country. Our Regional Assembly last spring brought together national leaders, including House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to push the notion of infrastructure spending as economic stimulus. Our America 2050 project continues this beat as we meet with stakeholders throughout the nation on strategic infrastructure goals.

Building infrastructure - rail, water, powergrid or broadband - provides steady construction jobs, lays a foundation for growth through smart development, gives the region's residents critical money-saving alternatives to ever-escalating energy costs and lessens our dependence on foreign oil. It also helps keep us competitive abroad.

Right now we're being outspent by our global competitors in India, China and Europe.  Where we once provided the capacity for growth by building the New York City subway and commuter rail system in our Region and the Interstate Highway system throughout the entire U.S., we now are falling behind as cities and countries around the globe outpace us.

It has been and will continue to be a unique time for RPA as we work on the front lines to find sensible solutions in tough times. Unquestionably, what RPA does best - bringing together diverse interests, advising government and private interests, and providing recommendations based on smart policies - is what will be the driving force in making monumental and sustainable changes happen.

We look forward to another exciting year of planning for the future of our region and around the nation


Robert D. Yaro
Mayor Bloomberg Unveils PlaNYC 2.0
Mayor Michael Bloomberg today unveiled version 2.0 of New York City's comprehensive sustainability plan, PlaNYC. First launched in 2007, PlaNYC has provided a roadmap for long range and near term investment strategies to create a more sustainable and livable City.

FROM: Regional Plan Association
CONTACT: Neysa Pranger at (212) 253-5796, (917) 532-0567 or


(New York, NY) - Regional Plan Association - an independent planning organization representing the tri-state region - today released the following statement regarding Mayor Michael Bloomberg's release of PlaNYC 2.0:

"Regional Plan Association is thrilled to see the release of the next version of PlaNYC along with Mayor Bloomberg's continued commitment to achieving the outcomes of plan through long-range planning initiatives, which RPA so strongly supports," said Bob Yaro, President, Regional Plan Association. "PlaNYC provides a road map to the future by encouraging economic growth and making New York a great place to live and work. Regional Plan Association is committed to working with this and future administrations to support the goals set forth in this plan and to continue to set a course for prosperity in our region."

"We're particularly pleased to see the City focusing on Green Infrastructure which can provide a cost effective means of achieving water quality goals," said Rob Pirani, Vice President for Environmental Programs, Regional Plan Association and Executive Director, Governors Island Alliance. "RPA recently launched an initiative to treat storm water from the Long Island Expressway, which now pollutes Flushing Bay. PlaNYC embraces this and other pilot programs to use this new technology."
Four years ago we asked what we want our city to look and feel like in 2030

A growing population, aging infrastructure, a changing climate, and an evolving economy posed challenges to our city’s success and quality of life. But we recognized that we will determine our own future by how we respond to and shape these changes with our own actions.

We created PlaNYC as a bold agenda to meet these challenges and build a greener, greater New York.

Today, we put forward an updated plan that builds upon the progress and lessons of the past four years.
The Plan

Released in 2007, PlaNYC was an unprecedented effort undertaken by Mayor Bloomberg to prepare the city for one million more residents, strengthen our economy, combat climate change, and enhance the quality of life for all New Yorkers. The Plan brought together over 25 City agencies to work toward the vision of a greener, greater New York. Since then, we have made significant progress towards our long-term goals.

In just four years we’ve built hundreds of acres of new parkland while improving our existing parks. We’ve created or preserved more than 64,000 units of housing. We’ve built whole new neighborhoods with access to transit. We’ve provided New Yorkers with more transportation options. We’ve enacted the most ambitious laws of any city in the country to make existing buildings more energy-efficient.  And we’ve reduced our greenhouse gas emissions 13% below 2005 levels. Over 97% of the 127 initiatives in PlaNYC were launched within one-year of its release and almost two-thirds of its 2009 milestones were achieved or mostly achieved.

The updated plan has 132 initiatives and more than 400 specific milestones for December 31, 2013.

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"Essentially, the RPA wants to see the difference between union and non-union expenditures drop to 10 percent from the current levels, which the organization says are closer to 20-30 percent.

The report, of course, is not without controversy. Union leaders say that the two primary authors, Julia Vitullo-Martin and Hope Cohen, are former Manhattan Institute conservatives who would prefer to see unions dismantled. Citing “Wisconsin” and “the Koch Brothers,” the Building and Construction Trades Council spoke out against the report."
-Benjamin Kabak
The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (renamed in 1981 from the International Center for Economic Policy Studies) is a conservative, market-oriented think tank established in New York City in 1978 by Antony Fisher and William J. Casey, with its headquarters at 52 Vanderbilt Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. The organization describes its mission as to "develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility". The Institute, known for its advocacy of free market-based solutions to policy problems, supports and publicizes research on the economy, energy, education, health care, welfare reform, the legal system, crime reduction, and urban life, among others. Its message is communicated through books, articles, interviews, speeches, op-eds, and through the institute's quarterly publication City Journal, targeted at policymakers, politicians, scholars, and journalists.

Funding sources

The Manhattan Institute received $19,470,416 in grants from 1985–2005, from foundations such as the Koch Family Foundations, the John M. Olin Foundation, Inc., the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Scaife Foundations, and the Smith Richardson Foundation. The Manhattan Institute does not disclose its corporate funding, but the Capital Research Center listed its contributors as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Exxon Mobil, Chase Manhattan, CIGNA, Sprint, Reliant Energy, Lincoln Financial Group Foundation, and Merrill Lynch.
Manhattan Institute
"The #1 Resource for Public Sector Union Issues:
The Manhattan Institute's experts have been shining a spotlight on public-sector union issues for years. From Steven Malanga's prescient warning of America's emerging new political reality to Wisconsin's public union showdown, our experts have been at the forefront of the discussion."
Julia Vitullo-Martin is a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and Director of the Center for Rethinking Development. Her work focuses on development issues such as planning and zoning, housing, rent regulation, environmental reviews, building and fire codes, and landmark preservation.

Vitullo-Martin has been widely published in a variety of newspapers and magazines, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the New York Daily News, the New York Times, Commonweal, and Fortune, as well as academic journals. She has authored and edited three books, including Breaking Away: The Future of Cities (Century Foundation Press, 1996).

Prior to joining the Institute, Vitullo-Martin served as a Senior Fellow at the Vera Institute of Justice, Managing Editor for the Mayor’s Commission on New York City in the Year 2000, Assistant Commissioner for Planning and Development with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, and Executive Director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council. In addition, she taught at the Graduate School of Management at New School University and the Graduate Department of Urban Planning at Hunter College. She has edited and written numerous reports for foundations and for the city, state, and federal governments.

Vitullo-Martin holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago.

She lives on the West Side of Manhattan with her husband.
Julia Vitullo-Martin is a Senior Fellow at the Regional Plan Association and Director of the Center for Urban Innovation. Her work focuses on development issues such as planning and zoning, housing, waterfront development, environmental review, building and fire codes, and historic preservation. She also writes on crime and its consequences for neighborhoods.
Hope Cohen was the deputy director of the Center for Rethinking Development. With over a decade of experience in New York City government at the Department of Parks and Recreation and MTA New York City Transit, she brought invaluable experience navigating the complex city bureaucracy and an acute ability to solve complex problems by building consensus among multiple stake-holders.

Supplementing her professional work as a public servant with voluntary public service as a Board member, Land Use Committee Co-Chairperson, and Board Chairperson of Manhattan's Community Board 7 (Upper West Side), she represented her neighborhood's land use and zoning concerns to a variety of city agencies, always working to get the multiple interested parties to a place of consensus and cooperation. She also developed recognized expertise on land use issues, ranging from the inclusionary housing bonus to the use of sidewalk space.

As Chairperson, she reorganized the Board structure, introduced streamlined processes, and recruited ambitious, civic-minded new members to represent the community. A major achievement of her administration was a review of the city's Solid Waste Management Plan that included acceptance of a role for the West 59th Street Marine Transfer Station, but also highlighted solid waste management as one of several key issues that need to be addressed seriously in the context of the city's development. She is intensely interested in the development and maintenance of the infrastructure required to make New York City work.

She holds a B.A. from Harvard and an M.A. from the University of Chicago.
Hope Cohen is associate director of RPA's Center for Urban Innovation. On March 3, 2010, Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed her to the NYC Charter Revision Commission.

Before coming to RPA, Cohen was deputy director of the Manhattan Institute's Center for Rethinking Development, where she focused principally on issues of urban environment and infrastructure, publishing Rethinking Environmental Review and The Neighborly Substation, in which she analyzed electrical substations in London, Edinburgh, Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, as well as Anaheim and New York. She has also published on these topics and others in the New York Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, and Gotham Gazette.

Cohen worked for many years in New York City's public sector, in areas ranging from urban planning to capital budgeting to strategic information technology. She was at MTA New York City Transit for more than a decade, concentrating for much of that time on bringing the technology used for the city's subway and bus systems into the twenty-first century.

Since 1995, she has supplemented her professional work with voluntary public service as a member of Manhattan's Community Board 7 (Upper West Side), where she has served as board chairperson as well as land-use co-chairperson.

Cohen holds a BA from Harvard and an MA from the University of Chicago.