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Unions Don’t Need Lip Service. They Need Work.


If De Niro’s allegiance to unions is in words only, he should turn in his union card

Robert DeNiro has had an astonishing film career. He attributes much of his success to the support he’s enjoyed from the SAG-AFTRA union where he’s been a member for decades. In 2020, SAG-AFTRA gave Mr. De Niro a lifetime achievement award.


At that award ceremony he extolled the benefits and cultural importance of unions. He said, “Political leaders who support unions are more likely to support the Affordable Care Act, equitable taxes, humane immigration regulations, a safe environment, a diverse citizenry, reproductive rights, sensible gun control and fair wages and benefits," the actor said to applause. 


He added: "We owe them our support and we owe them our vote." 

This particular performance makes it difficult to understand Mr. De Niro’s latest turn. In June of this year ground was broken on his Wildflower studio, a $600 million, 775,000 square-foot “vertical village” film complex being built in Astoria, Queens.


And the proud union-member Mr. De Niro has decided to build his complex using non-union contractors.


De Niro’s Wildflower LTD hired Leeding Builders Group to construct the studio complex. Leeding is proudly non-union. They are a founding member the New York Construction Alliance, an anti-union group of construction companies formed to promote non-union labor.

If you’re scratching your head over this development, join the club. When pitching the Wildflower concept to city managers, De Niro’s group was clear about the benefit union members would enjoy from thousands of added union theatrical jobs for professionals including actors, stagehands, technicians, editors, directors and others.


But what about the hundreds of union construction jobs that could have been created? What about the union metal latherers, cement workers and masons, carpenters, laborers and electricians? Why did Wildflower decide to shaft all of them?

De Niro says we owe fealty to unions – and then he hires a non-union contractor to build his new mega studio in Astoria.


At a rally at the Wildflower studio construction site, New York Senator Jessica Ramos chastised Robert De Niro for providing only lip-service in support of unions, rather than jobs, when he had the opportinuty.

New York State Senator Jessica Ramos, chair of the Labor Committee in Albany, said, “Wildflower Studios promised to bring 1,000 good-paying, permanent jobs to Astoria, but there’s no reason those opportunities have to wait until the studio is built. When you build union, your project finishes on time, your worksite is safer and the labor force gets the respect and fair wages guaranteed to them by a solid contract. As a proud union member himself, we know Mr. De Niro knows this, and urge him to put his professed values behind his hiring practices.”


Non-union means grade B work

Concerns also exist regarding the quality of the facility if it is completed by non-union labor. Union-Built Matters has documented the many differences between unions and non-union contractors, and one of the largest chasms is the difference in building quality.


Steamfitters Local 638 Business Manager Daniel Mulligan pressed that point, “A state-of-the-art, multimillion-dollar facility of this caliber needs a highly skilled and trained workforce, and that’s what Local 79 is urging Mr. De Niro to acknowledge and address. There is no workforce in our industry that can compete with the men and women of Steamfitters 638, when it comes to completing projects on time, under budget, safely and with the highest standards.”


Unfortunately, neither Wilfdlower LTD, Leeding Builders nor SAG-AFTRA have responded to our inquiries for comment. But local unions, politicians and citizens have been extremely vocal in their disapproval. The New York Carpenters Union and Local 79 joined a rally at the construction site on June 30 where huge crowds could be heard from blocks away. And Scabby the Rat has taken up residence there to alert everyone of the foul odor of anti-union practices.


Actions speak louder than words

Sadly, both Mr. De Niro’s words and his actions cannot be true at the same time. Are we to believe that we owe unions our support and our vote, as he stated when he received SAG-AFTRA’s lifetime achievement award? Or do his non-union hiring actions at Wildflower speak louder than the words in his award speech?


If the former is true, Mr. De Niro needs to press Wildflower LTD to rethink who they’ve hired to build that studio. But if the latter is true, which it seems to be, we hope Mr. De Niro has considered returning that prestigious award he got from his union and turning in his union card.


Ask any union member to choose between lip-service and a paying job, and as soon as they finish laughing, they’ll ask you where they should report to work. Robert De Niro, SAG-AFTRA member, knows this.

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