Local 802’s home at 322 West 48th Street is in dire need of help. After its purchase in 1992, a major renovation was done before the local moved in. That was 30 years ago. Since then, an increasing number of small repairs have been done to the building’s infrastructure, but now many of our larger systems are either failing or at the end of their useful lives, including the boiler, HVAC system, and elevator. We also have to look at our growing Con Ed bills and a new NYC law starting in 2023 that will penalize buildings for their too-large carbon footprints. All need to be addressed now. Added to these concerns are a crumbling facade on the east side of the building that’s being repaired to the tune of $125,000, plus a recently-replaced fire alarm system that cost the union $85,000.
The Building Subcommittee of the Local 802 Executive Board has been considering how to deal with all these repairs and replacements. We know that some of these expenses are necessary. But we think we should view these expenditures as an opportunity to make some exciting lemonade from a pile of rotten lemons. And we think that, whatever way we go, we should consider all improvements within the context of a long-term plan that includes a vision for the future of the building and the local and also includes a re-imagining of the building, its function, and its usefulness to members.
The subcommittee and the whole Executive Board have agreed that the local should explore going green from stem to stern. We’ve begun to do just that. We commissioned a feasibility study (paid for by the city) that will tell us if our building is a good candidate for solar panels. It looks like it is, but we’re awaiting official confirmation. Assuming we’re eligible, we’ll have several choices, including some free options and some lost-cost options. It’s thought that we’ll be able to produce enough electricity not only to serve our own needs, but also to have a surplus to sell. One of the nonprofits we’re working with would identify low-income neighborhood residents and individually enroll them in a program to buy their electricity from us at rates lower than Con Ed’s, literally transforming the union into a neighborhood powerhouse.
We’re working with another nonprofit whose mission is to help design and implement new green infrastructure (for organizations exactly like us) that would allow the use of our self-produced electricity to power an efficient HVAC system. We could then cap off our gas supply line and slash our Con Ed bills. Again, depending on a forthcoming assessment of our needs, we’ll have several options here too.
Finally, we’re exploring combining solar panel installation with the creation of a green roof, which would allow us to further reduce our heating and cooling expenses.
While we cannot yet estimate the cost for doing all of this, there are several reasons to try, regardless of expense:
- All of the above carry the potential for rebates, tax incentives, grants and investment from mission-driven investment firms. These will reduce our initial expenses and provide possible paths for financing.
- The sale of surplus electricity will produce a new income stream for the local, while supporting low-income residents in our neighborhood.
- The conversion to green tech will resolve any future violations of the new Local Law 97 which will levy substantial carbon footprint penalties upon buildings such as ours.
- Our boiler and HVAC systems are close to the end of their useful lives and must be replaced with something soon.
- We would be the first union in New York to go completely green and this would likely endow us with some large amount of political capital. (What local politician would NOT want to align with us as a model for all other businesses and social justice institutions?)
- Finally, it’s the right thing to do! No matter our individual political leanings, we can all agree that we, as a union, must behave responsibly towards our members, community, and planet. This would represent an enormous step towards doing just that.
Stay tuned over the next few months for updates on the progress of this project and wish us luck!
Sara Cutler is a member of the Building Subcommittee on the Local 802 Executive Board.