The rat, as a symbol of union displeasure, made an appearance on Witherspoon Street Friday, May 9, in front of the old hospital building that has been purchased for redevelopment by AvalonBay.
“The rat is here to draw attention to the fact that AvalonBay has hired a subcontractor and started the abatement process,” said Saverio Samarelli of the Laborers’ Eastern Region Organizing Fund, who, together with Franklin Ortega of LiUNA (Laborers International Union of North America) Local 78 was making flyers available at the site.
“We are here to inform the public that the subcontractor hired by AvalonBay is considered substandard because of past violations,” said Mr. Samarelli, who went on to express his doubts about the subcontractor’s workforce: “We aren’t totally confident that all of his workers have the correct qualifications for this work.”
Mr. Samarelli described the hospital site as “the perfect storm of environmental hazards. There’s PCB, mercury, silica, lead, asbestos and medical waste, all of which can be airborne if not done correctly.” [PCB is polychlorinated biphenyl, a synthetic organic chemical compound containing chlorine.]
“And as far as we have observed there is nobody here to check that the work is being done correctly,” added Mr. Ortega.
Under the heading “Improper Asbestos Work is Dangerous,” the Union flyers cite the death of a 23-year-old women from mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure. It states: “AvalonBay Communities has hired substandard company Yannuzzi Environmental Services to perform deadly asbestos abatement at 253 Witherspoon Street,” and alleges that company owner John Yannuzzi “was indicted on felony charges of criminal mischief and unlawful disposal of solid waste.”
“Not true,” said Mr. Joe Giannetti, general manager for Yannuzzi Environmental Services, who described the union’s action as an attempt to replace local hires with union members. “We are an open shop and what you have here is a disgruntled union that wants us to hire their members rather than local workers,” he said in a telephone interview Monday. As for the alleged felony charges, he said: “We were charged but there was no indictment.”
Asked about 2008 and 2009 reports by the N.J. Division of Criminal Justice Environmental Crimes Prosecutions stating that Mr. Yanuzzi’s company was charged in 2008 with illegal transportation of solid waste and criminal mischief with respect to a 45-foot box trailer abandoned on a Newark street in 2006, Mr. Giannetti said: “It is only partially correct. To my recollection, there was no 45 foot trailer filled with waste, it was three yards of sandblasting sand.”
“Our company was founded in 1923 and registered in New Jersey in 1957,” said Mr. Giannetti. “We stand by our track record. One violation in all that time.”
In a telephone call Tuesday, municipal engineer Bob Kiser pointed out that building department personnel had been stopping by the former hospital site periodically and that he had been there on Monday afternoon with John Pettenati, Princeton’s chief building code official, as well as land use engineer Jack West and electrical inspector Larry Logan. “The work we saw was satisfactory, the proper safety measures were being employed and materials were being correctly separated.”
Mr Kiser noted that no demolition had started, just the removal of carpeting, ceiling tiles, copper piping, electrical wiring, steel, and aluminum.
Asked about the allegations as stated on the Union flyer regarding AvalonBay subcontractor John Yannuzzi, Mr. Kiser said that he was aware of the past incident referred to and that the company’s record had been looked into via OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and found to be satisfactory. “We saw the information that was provided to us and it appeared to be an isolated incident by a company that is properly licensed and certified.”
As for the company, Mr. Giannetti observed that it was happy to be working in Princeton, where it is also “doing work on the University’s new dorms.”