ASTORIA, QUEENS — The people building Robert de Niro's giant Astoria movie studio may not be such good fellas after all, according to local labor leaders and an elected official — who say the project is breaking a promise by hiring nonunion workers.
"We want Wildflower Studios to be built union," State Sen. Jessica Ramos said in a news conference Thursday morning outside the construction site for Wildflower Studios — a $600 million development rapidly rising above 19th Avenue, at the northern edge of Astoria.
It was spearheaded by the legendary actor, his son — the real estate broker Raphael de Niro — and the development company Wildflower LTD. The site was formerly home to parking and storage for the nearby Steinway & Sons piano factory before de Niro's group bought it in 2019.
While Robert de Niro is a vocal union supporter and longtime member of the Screen Actor's Guild, the Wildflower project undermines those claims, advocates argued.
"Black and brown construction workers are being exploited at this site, not receiving living wages and not receiving the union training they need to build this well," Ramos said.
Construction began earlier this year on the multi-building project, months after the city approved a slew of zoning changes needed to build it. During that public review process, developers promised that they would "seek union labor," according to a July 2021 document from the Queens Borough President's office, which recommended approving the project.
Recently, however, Ramos and labor leaders learned the overwhelming majority of laborers assigned to the site were nonunion, including its plumbers, sheet metal workers, electricians and general laborers. The general contractor, Leeding Builders Group, has publicly billed itself as an "open shop" firm.
Ramos was joined outside the construction site on Thursday by workers from Laborers' Local 79, Steamfitters Local 638 and Sheet Metal Local 28 — whose political director, Anthony Guerrero, called on de Niro to "put his money where his mouth is."
Indeed, de Niro has been vocal in his labor support, telling an audience in 2020 that he was grateful for the backing of the Screen Actor's Guild — particularly "these days, when there's so much hostility towards unions."
But Ramos said such talk was cheap.
"You're either a union man or you're not — there's no in between," she said.
Leeding Builders Group and Raphael de Niro's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Adam Gordon, a managing partner of Wildflower LTD, declined to comment, while Patch was unable to reach a representative for Robert de Niro.
Besides the construction jobs, developers also promised that Wildflower Studios will employ more than 1,000 unionized workers once the complex opens in late 2023 — comprised of stagehands, actors and technicians.
The "studio village" will include 11 sound stages plus other production facilities, as well as a public waterfront promenade that will run along nearby Luyster Creek.
The main studio building will be a seven-story production facility, designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group — a famed architecture firm. The 135-foot-tall building will also house cafes, offices, lounges and 150,000 square feet of solar panels, according to reports.
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