Spruce School parents protest as union pickets near classrooms

Union picket near Spruce Street School on Nov. 15 , a few days before First Precinct Captain Timoney said he would not allow bullhorns to be used. Downtown Express photo by Sam Spokony
Union picket line near Spruce Street School on Nov. 15 , a few days before First Precinct Captain Timoney said he would not allow bullhorns to be used. Downtown Express photo by Sam Spokony

BY SAM SPOKONY   |  ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED NOV. 26, 2013  |  Union workers are making their voices heard outside Spruce Street School in a protest over the construction of a new Pace University dormitory — but some parents and residents want them to keep the noise down.

Construction on the new 33 Beekman St. dorm — a 30-story building that will include around 380 student housing units — began in June, according to a spokesperson for the Naftali Group, which owns the site.

Since then, labor unions have demonstrated next to the work site to protest the fact that non-union workers were hired for the job, while also condemning Casino Development Group, the organization that was hired to construct the building, for allegedly not providing fair wages and benefits to its employees.

The union members currently hold their rallies every weekday — from 1-3 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, and 8-10 a.m. on Friday, according to a protester — while chanting and marching along the sidewalk on the north side of Beekman St., near its intersection with William St.

Some parents of students at the Spruce Street School, which sits on the same block, are angry about the loud volume of the protests, saying it disrupts classes and frightens the children while they’re entering or leaving the school building.

“They just don’t care about us,” said Sarah Sakar, whose daughter is a fourth grader at the school. “I understand what the union is saying, and they have the right to protest, but this is infringing on the kids’ ability to learn. We just want them to stop the noise.”

A representative of the Spruce Street School declined to comment.

One of the union members at the site explained that he feels for the angry parents, but stressed that he and his fellow protesters are more focused on making their point.

“We don’t mean to upset the locals,” said Eoin Daly, 42, a carpenter who immigrated to New York from Ireland, and who also has three kids of his own. “But in order to get the point across, we have to picket and we have to make noise, because if you don’t make some noise, people don’t listen.”

Paul Hovitz, a member of Community Board 1, expressed concerns about the fact that the protests are also just outside New York Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital (formerly known as Downtown Hospital).

“It’s causing patients, doctors and hospital staff to be disturbed while they try to work,” said Hovitz.

A representative of the hospital declined to comment.

At the First Precinct’s Community Council meeting on Nov. 19, Sakar and several other locals raised the issue with police.

Captain Brendan Timoney, who heads the precinct, said that he has met with union leaders to discuss the matter — the current protest schedule was a result of talks with police — but explained that basically nothing can be done, from a legal standpoint, to quiet the shouting or to force the demonstrators to move, since the protests involve constitutionally protected rights to free speech.

“We were able to persuade [the union members] to stop blowing whistles,” said Timoney, “but aside from that, there’s really not much you can do.”

However, when Timoney was informed that the protesters were using a bullhorn at a recent rally, he said that activity would have to be stopped, since a sound permit is required for any amplified noise in a public place.