Open Letter: The Union Protests Disrupting Spruce Street School

Last week, the Downtown Express reported on how union protests on Beekman are making life hell for the teachers and kids at Spruce Street School. Cecile Heron, mom to two children at the school, wrote in about exactly how bad the situation is.

Every weekday, several hours a day, rain or shine, unions are protesting the use of non-union workers on a building under construction on Beekman Street, across from Spruce Street School. The protesters stand beneath the classroom windows, yelling and chanting at full voice, sometimes bringing whistles and even air horns (!). Their number grew from a few to at least a hundred yesterday. I have not had the time to talk to them—they seem to start at the beginning of the afternoon and go on until the end of school (at 2:55 p.m.), just when I pick up my children and focus my attention on them—but to tell you the truth, they are intimidating, and I can’t imagine having a calm conversation with them.

They block the streets as well. They are so numerous now that parents or nannies have difficulties crossing the street with their small children and strollers in tow. Parents have been calling 311 and 911 to no effect. The principal has been calling, too, to no effect. This has been going on since last September.

At first, I thought the workers had the right to express themselves and that we should accept that, as we live in a democracy. However, the children and the teachers of Spruce Street School can no longer learn or teach properly. And, believe me, I am not a stressed-out mom when it comes to my children’s grades—I just firmly believe that it is everyone’s right to have access to education in a non-stressful environment. I talked to my daughter’s teacher at the last parent/teacher conference and she said the chanting and screams and other noise was very disruptive. It was highly difficult for her to get the children’s attention, to work through that constant noise, with the same words sung over and over and over again. Can you imagine trying to work in this horrible noise but on top of that trying to do your best to teach 6-, 7-, 8-year-old students? Another mom told me that while she was helping in the library with the children, there was no way they could read or hear anything that was told to them with the noise outside.

There are children with special needs at Spruce Street School. What do the workers think of what they do to their stress level? Also, there is a hospital across from the school. How terrible for the people being treated there.

The freedom of expression of some should not infringe on the rest of the population’s rights for education. It is a Pace University building that goes up—why should Spruce Street School children and teachers have to suffer? What is the mayor doing? Nothing. What are the police doing to protect the rights of citizens to learn and teach in peace? Nothing.

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  1. Had Cecile found out if anyone from the school actually spoken to the protesters?

  2. Has anyone tried to contacted the union headquarters? I was walking through Brookfield Place early this week and a protest was organizing. There were union leaders speaking to the workers/protesters telling them what the protest was about. It was very organized. Skip the protesters and go right to the union. Find out who represents the workers and complain to them and about them.

  3. There is an agreement between the school & union to not to use whistles that the police have helped enforce, but the shouting & chanting remains, and is loud, and is only two, three flights right below the special needs classrooms of P 94 and other PS 397/spruce classes. A bullhorn cannot be used, by law, but sometimes is. It does seem reasonable that the protests could being at 3 pm and last until 7 or 8 pm – (disturbing the nighttime commuters, many who work for the very businesses underwriting construction like this, would be crafty), but these union members are not currently working, and are paid for their time by the union (watch when they finish sometime, they get checks), and the protest work hours are 7 or 8 to 3, same as many construction jobs. The protest would be more effective if it was placed in front of Pace offices – the current construction site workers don’t care.

    Considering that structure will take a year or two to complete, there has to be some different solution. It will prob need to come from the Gehry tower management, although breath shouldn’t be held. You could make a disturbing the peace argument because of the school, though, no?

  4. I confronted one of the organizers today – my child goes to school at Spruce Street. As one of union members was leading a chant (he was not a mere picketer, clearly a union leader and almost certainly paid to be doing what he was doing) I asked him if he could be quiet. He charged at me and stopped just short of what police would probably agree is physical assault. Then best he could do is the old union fallacy of “doing it for America and doing it for kids.” Then he asked me if I had kids. I stood there, child in hand, and said yes and that the demonstration did nothing but distract the kids. He didn’t agree and felt what he was doing was necessary for his kids. Even though he was almost assuredly being paid to be there, and not realistically fighting to get back to work.

    I spoke to a staffer in Margaret Chin’s office and unfortunately, in my opinion, didn’t provide much leadership. I was told they are exercising their 1st Amendment Rights and the NYPD can’t do anything about them. 311 is a joke.

    I feel any complaints to the union representation will result in the same, tired, boring old argument that I got into today.

    I mean honestly – Pace University is just going to stop work on the site, fire all of the guys working the job, and kiss and make up with these numskulls? Oh – our fault – come right on in and we’re going to double your salaries. Our bad!

    They know that will never happen and they are only there to cause problems.
    Right under our children.
    They’ve taken over the neighborhood with their giant rat and they are starting to win.

    It feels like taxation without representation.

  5. Chin goes to every single union event; no way is she crossing them.

  6. Crazy thought, but maybe some complaints could be made to the construction company or developer? There are lots of construction projects around the city that don’t have this problem with the unions – why is this one having a problem? Are corners being cut, illegal workers being used, is it a dangerous site, etc.? Presumably Spruce School parents might also be concerned about the safety of the nearby construction site… And it’s possible that type of concern might get more traction with a developer.

  7. fyi. the union leaders I was referring to were not the guys protesting.
    they were lovely young women with union shirts over their lovely outfits who were quietly speaking to the protesters describing who and why they would be picketing that day. I was really surprised. I would not try to confront a picketer. These are well organized events sanctioned by the city. Complaints should be taken to the organizers.

  8. Everyone has a problem with every form of bullying except when it comes to unions. Inflatable rats? Too funny. The unions should really think about using some of their collected union dues and buy an inflatable rat balloon for next year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.