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WTC cement workers walk off job, raising fears of delay in rebuilding

Concrete workers walked off the job Monday at

Concrete workers walked off the job Monday at the World Trade Center. Photo Credit: Concrete workers walked off the job Monday at the World Trade Center. (RJ Michelson/amNY)

With the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks just weeks away and new World Trade Center towers finally transforming downtown’s skyline, cement workers at Ground Zero walked off the job Monday in what many fear is the prelude to a strike that could delay the rebuilding.

Hundreds of workers staged the walkout Monday because they have been without a contract for a month and are worried about a pay cut.

The Port Authority insisted the memorial would open as planned on Sept. 11, but a real-estate observer suggested a continued walkout could stop progress “within a matter of days” on the iconic One World Trade Center — on its way to becoming Gotham’s tallest tower — as well as the transit hub.

The workers, represented by the Cement and Concrete Workers Union, and the Cement League, which represents management, are in the middle of negotiating a new contract. Both sides plan to meet again today, said Louis Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers’ Association, which represents contractors including the Cement League.

“There’s no reason for anybody to be on strike,” said Coletti said, adding that 650 other unionized workers were laid off yesterday because of the cement workers’ strike. “The World Trade Center site should not be held as a bargaining chip in these negotiations.”

Representatives for the union would not return calls for comment, but workers spoke to the press at the trade center Monday. It was unknown if they would report to work this morning.

"It's a horrible situation,” John Hardt of the Cement and Concrete Workers Union told NY1. “We built this city and they want to take money away from us, in this bad economy."

The Port Authority said the work stoppage would only have a limited impact

"Today's citywide strike by the concrete workers union will have no impact on construction of the 9/11 Memorial -- which remains on track to open on the 10th anniversary -- and minimal impacts on the site's other projects," Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said in an email.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that most of the cement needed for the memorial had already been poured, and a strike would only hurt downtown businesses.

“It’s construction unions and employees of construction companies, and owners and people who want to move their businesses down there that would get hurt,” Bloomberg said at a news conference. “Hopefully it is not a long-term thing.

Still, New Yorkers said they were worried that the contract dispute could make the anniversary of a tragic day even worse.

“It will be a shame if the memorial can’t open on time because of this,” said Elizabeth Armistead, 28, of the Financial District. “This is a major anniversary of a life-changing event. I would be disappointed to see it ruined.”

Patrick Logan, 27, of Riverdale, said a lot of New Yorkers want to see the new trade center finished.

“But how much money do you keep shoveling out to these unions? There has to be some kind of cap on it.”

Others sympathized with the workers.

“If the workers need to hold out to get the money they deserve, they should,” said Lynn-Marie Watson, 25, a unionized Macy’s sale associate from Rosedale. “Private business had no problem taking their time to get things ready to go – it’s been a whole decade!”

(With Christine DiStasio and Sheila Anne Feeney) 

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