Sunday, April 02, 2006

Yankees paid "professional protesters" Part 2, NY Times, 04/30/02

Rival groups of workers clash at site; 3 are injured.
NYC's Upper East Side is site of battle between United Hispanic Coalition construction workers and Positive Work Force Coalition by Al Baker in The New York Times on April 30, 2002 pB3 col 6

Two rival groups of construction workers who have waged a violent tug of war for jobs at construction sites for years clashed in a fight on the Upper East Side yesterday, wielding bats, rocks, metal pipes and at least one handgun. Three men were injured, the police said.

Investigators were trying to determine what sparked the fight. They believe that one group, the United Hispanic Coalition, set upon the Positive Work Force Coalition on a bustling corner of Lexington Avenue, near East 87th Street, the police said.

Such loose-knit groups of nonunion workers, often called construction coalitions, have been around for decades and claim to represent minority workers battling racial bias in the construction industry. But the authorities say some are criminal groups bent on strong-arming jobs or extorting payoffs at work sites.

The violence erupted just before 9 a.m., the police said. When it was over, one man had gunshot wounds to an arm and a leg and a serious injury to the back of his head, and two other men had also been injured.

The melee sent frightened pedestrians scurrying for cover in coffee shops and apartment buildings and left a carpet of bricks, ax handles, shattered glass and bloody clothes strewn across curbs and pavement.

''At approximately 8:56 a.m., a dispute erupted between two groups,'' Capt. Joseph Cain of the Manhattan Detectives told reporters at the scene yesterday, as he urged witnesses to call the police. ''We're looking into this being possibly a union dispute. We haven't seen this in a while.''

The police said they had no reliable estimate for the number of men involved in the fight.

The groups crossed paths in Times Square in 1995 in a fight that left two men shot, and in Chelsea a year later, when shots were fired but no one was hit.

''The Hispanic coalition may have claimed this turf that the Positive group is claiming, or the Positive group may have been there for a long time and the Hispanic group came by,'' said Stanley Aronowitz, a sociology professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center, a labor expert familiar with both groups.

As the fight started, the driver of a white van fired a gun from inside and then outside his van, the police said. Witnesses then saw the two groups square off near a gray van, whose windows were later smashed.

At one point, one group outnumbered the other, one witness said, and its members focused on one man, who was surrounded, hurled to the ground and pummeled. The police did not release the man's name.

''They were just pounding on the guy, hitting him with pipes and bats,'' said Angelo Rivera, a security guard at the CVS pharmacy.

The police said the man, 34 years old, suffered a ruptured brain stem, and was taken to New York Weill Cornell Center, where he was in extremely critical condition.

Later, the police stopped the white van 15 blocks north of the fight scene and four men who were in the van were taken to the 19th Precinct station house for questioning. Four men who may have been victims were also being questioned, the police said.


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