The Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council on Wednesday released a 15-minute documentary exposing alleged health and safety violations at the Goldtex Apartments, a former warehouse on North 12th Street nearVine Streetcurrently being renovated into rental units by developersthe Post Brothers.
The video, titled, “Deconstructing the Post Brothers: Exposing the Truth Behind the Cheap Facade,” was directed and produced by 9.14 Pictures, the team behind “The Art of the Steal,” and was in part shot by two men who went undercover posing as workers at the site.
“The Post Brothers, the way they operate is they exploit the general public, they exploit their workers and they exploit the taxpayers,” said one of the workers in the film.
“There is no safety standards, there is no quality standards – it all goes back to post making as much money as possible for as little of an investment as possible.”
The documentary claims the Post Brothers, comprised of Matthew and Michael Pestronk, cheated the city out of taxes by paying employees in cash without ensuring 1099 forms were submitted, didn’t secure the proper permits when first undertaking construction and allowed numerous fire and safety hazards to persist.
“You have high voltage cable exposed, piles of trash 5, 6, 7-foot wide blocking the hallway, blocking exits and entrances, blocking the elevators,” one of the undercover workers said on tape.
“You have workers working in this building, no fire extinguishers on any of these floors, a fire alarm that’s not installed. If a fire starts, God knows what would happen.”
The video further alleges workers painted over dangerous mold and filled bottles and buckets with urine, sealing some of them inside the complex’s walls.
“If people are on the 8th or 9th floor, they don’t want to walk down to the Porta-Johns,” one of the workers said.
“They use empty water bottles, empty Gatorade bottles, empty spackle buckets. So it became such a problem that you’ve had dozens and dozens and dozens – maybe hundreds – of bottles of urines in the building. They’ve had buckets, 5 gallon buckets, filled within a half an inch to the brim. I’ve seen bottles of urine that’s sitting between studs in walls that have yet to be closed, and then I’ve seen the walls closed, and I would venture to say somebody’s got a surprise waiting for them behind the walls somewhere.”
One of the most explosive claims came from electricians union Local 98 business manager John Dougherty, who said an on-site construction contractor, Spartan Drywall owner Dominic Truelove, goes by the alias Dominic Spartan due to his past criminal history.
According to court documents, Truelove in 2005 pleaded guilty after being federally indicted for four bank robberies and two attempted bank robberies in New Jersey and the Philadelphia suburbs.
“And he’s the guy who had 60 people on one afternoon on that job site, as accounted by one of the inside people. Our guy was one of the foremen for his company for the time being and got a check without any taxes, as you saw, just a flat out $615,” Dougherty said.
“You think that there was a 1099 at the end of the year? You think the city was getting any taxes?”
Numerous politicians also made appearances in the video – among them, Congressman Bob Brady, state Rep. Bill Keller and City Councilmen Mark Squilla and Jim Kenney.
“[The Post Brothers] are cheating the city of Philadelphia, they’re cheating public safety,” Councilman Bobby Henon said Wednesday, slamming the construction site as “disgraceful.”
“We’re not going to stand for it.”
Multiple officials claimed problems like those they allegedly encountered at Goldtex are rooted in City Hall, where they allege L&I is providing inadequate oversight of projects undertaken by deep-pocketed developers.
“What happened here is a perfect storm,” Local 98 safety coordinator Jim Dollard said.
“You had two young bucks with a lot of money willing to spread that money around, and their intent was to break the rules and regulations. The perfect storm was these two young bucks and a completely dysfunctional department of L&I – completely dysfunctional.”
Building and Construction Trades business manager Pat Gillespie compared City Hall’s treatment of the Post Brothers with the city’s lack of action when it comes to hastening the process for homeowners and smaller developers.
“If you were doing a deck on your house and L&I came by and saw you didm’t have a permit for it and stopped it, it would take you at least a month to get a permit – I’m not exaggerating,” Gillespie said.
“But in this building, filled with all kinds of hazards, all kinds of problems, it took them less than two days through an expedited procedure.”
The video wrapped up by comparing the Goldtex site with the recently-opened high-rise at 2116 Chestnut Street.
Though both projects started around the same time, 2116 Chestnut was completed in 17 months and came in under budget, while construction at Goldtex is still ongoing.
Dougherty estimates Goldtex is now “months” behind schedule and “millions” over budget.
The project has been a source of ongoing contention with the city’s Building Trades unions since construction began in summer 2011 using an open shop, leading to months of picketing.
The Post Brothers hired a security team, outfitted workers with cameras and posted videos of alleged union misdeedson a dedicated website.
Building Trades representatives said they’ll soon be launching their own website to catalogue the Post Brothers’ apparent infractions, both at Goldtex and at the Presidential City Apartments they’re renovating on City Line Avenue.
In the meantime, officials at Wednesday’s press conference insisted the dispute is not merely about union versus non-union labor.
“If you take a look at this job, as per anyone who’s looking at it, we’ve never seen anything in our lifetime in the construction industry like the Post Brothers job. This isn’t the way people do business,” Dougherty said.
“This is not a non-union job site – this is a non-human job site.”
The Pestronk brothers responded to the claims with an emailed statement.
“The labor union’s ‘Johnny Doc-umentary’ should have been called Labor Gone Wild,” they said.
“It’s nothing more than a video Hail Mary from a desperate group whose fear-mongering is standing in the way of Philadelphia’s real growth. The allegations in the video are false and reckless.”
The developers said they will on their website “show [their] commitment to full transparency” by adding a section sharing paperwork related to Goldtex, including permits, inspection and safety reports, tax and business records, certificates of occupancy, air quality inspection report and subcontractor licenses, as well as “a complete accounting” of all of the developers’ political contributions.
That is expected to be posted within the next two weeks, according to the statement.
“And we call upon the unions and political cronies they support, to also release their political contribution information,” the Pestronks said.
“Based on what we’ve seen in this town, we don’t expect they’ll be that honest with the public. But when you don’t have the truth on your side you have to resort to bribes, lies, and videotapes.”
Still, many officials insisted it’s not the developers who are being picked on, as many past reports have suggested, but that the unions are being villainized for advocating – albeit often loudly – for fair worker treatment and adequate safety standards.
“Union people get a bad rap because [developers] say it’s too expensive,” Kenney said.
“It’s not too expensive. Construction and demolition are dangerous things, and you need capable, competent people to be doing it. And if the Post Brothers and every other non-union company followed the rules, they’d be competitive with the union guys.”