New York Daily News

Mad. Ave. Rally 40,000 Strong

Protest against TA project takes the cops by surprise

Reported by JOHN MARZULLI,





Daily News Staff Writers


Tens of thousands of angry construction workers paralyzed midtown Manhattan yesterday as a peaceful protest exploded into wild clashes between cops and bottle-throwing demonstrators - catching Mayor Giuliani and the NYPD off guard.

An army of 40,000 hardhats flooded streets in a raucous show of frustration over the awarding of a major Metropolitan Transportation Authority project to nonunion workers.

Some protesters pelted cops with rocks and bottles and even tried to overturn a van as the surging throng stopped traffic, forced businesses to close and sent pedestrians and motorists scattering for safety.

"I think it's a shame the workers would attack police officers," said Mayor Giuliani, who visited the hospitalized cops.

Top police brass admitted they were caught flat-footed by the growing mass of burly, chanting workers.

"They said there would be no more than 10,000," said Police Commissioner Howard Safir. "Our estimate is that approximately 40,000 showed up."

In all, 38 protesters were arrested on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to rioting and assaulting police, and 20 cops and three protesters were treated for injuries.

One muscle-bound demonstrator was nabbed for punching a police horse.

"There was a sense that a few of these people were intoxicated, including the one who assaulted the horse," said Giuliani, adding that the city will sue the unions for damages.

The protest began peacefully about 8 a.m. as union workers gathered in a light rain in front of MTA headquarters at 44th St. and Madison Ave.

In civil but boisterous speeches, labor leaders blasted the MTA for awarding Roy Kay Inc. a $33 million contract in April to build a subway command center at 54th St. and Ninth Ave.

They charged the Freehold, N.J., company uses cheap nonunion workers and violates safety procedures. MTA officials confirmed the state Labor Department is investigating alleged safety violations.

"Once you let these nonunion guys in and get their foot in the door, there's no turning back," said ironworker Joe Horan, 43, of Queens, waving an American flag and wearing a hardhat.

MTA Chairman Virgil Conway said state law required the agency to award the contract to Roy Kay because it was the lowest responsible bidder. "We are required to accept the lowest bid, whether that be union or nonunion," he said.

The protest swelled into a moving melee about 9 a.m., when one worker screamed, "Let's go over to the job site!"

In a flash, the 550 police officers on hand found themselves overwhelmed as ironworkers, steelworkers, carpenters, truckers and other laborers began marching across town.

"What do we want? Union!" they shouted in unison. "When do we want it? Now!"

Union workers rallied around a 15-foot-tall inflatable rat they said symbolizes nonunion workers nibbling away at their livelihoods.

"This is all about people whose jobs are being taken from them," said union attorney Stanley Kopilow, who went to the Midtown North Precinct stationhouse to bail out arrested demonstrators.

In the confusion, as demonstrators split along different unplanned routes to the site, protesters and cops were hit with eye-stinging Mace. One protester was in stable condition at Bellevue Hospital after being kicked in the face by a horse.

By 11:30 a.m., the crowd thinned to 1,000 hardhats who neared the construction site. They ran into a line of barricades and riot gear-clad cops on foot and on horseback.

Several bystanders were caught in the chaos.

MTA driver Tony Citarella, 40, was trucking motors to Queens when he ran into a mob shouting obscenities. He said the demonstrators pelted his truck with rocks and bottles, breaking its windows.

"I blew the red light and got out of there as fast as I could," Citarella said. "My mama didn't raise me stupid."

A Yonkers contractor building a cigar room at the Amarone restaurant at Ninth Ave. and 42nd St. said he slammed down the security gate as the protesters spotted him.

"They were all screaming, 'Get the scabs,' " said the contractor, who did not want to be named. "I was fearing for my life." He said the demonstrators started rocking his van and slashed two tires.

The angry laborers screamed "Police state!" as they knocked over metal and wooden barricades at the site. One helmeted cop was shoved to the ground. A police sergeant fell to the pavement with a protester in a headlock.

A demonstrator climbed to the third floor of the Transit Authority command center. As workers cheered, he ripped down an American flag and wrapped himself in it.

During the last month, the labor unions have held similar, but much smaller, protests. Late yesterday, organizers said they had warned the city to expect 40,000. Marilyn Mode, a police spokeswoman, denied that and said the NYPD had planned for 15,000.

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