The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “THE MAKING OF DONALD TRUMP” by David Cay Johnston from Chapter 9: “Polish Brigade” on page 69 and I quote: “Before Donald Trump could erect Trump Tower–his signature building–on Fifth Avenue, he had to knock down the Bonwit Teller department store, which had catered to fashionable women since 1929.
Bonwit’s twelve-story facade was adorned with a pair of giant bas-relief panels considered priceless examples of the Art Deco era: two naked women with flowing scarves, dancers perhaps, cut in limestone. The building’s entry featured an immense grillwork made from Benedict nickel, hammered aluminum, and other materials, which gave it the impression of a lusciously large piece of jewelry when backlit at night. American Architect magazine’s 1929 appraisal of the building described it as “a sparkling jewel in keeping with the character of the store.”
Trump assured those worried about the architectural treasures that he would give them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art if removal was not prohibitively expensive, a promise he would not keep.
Instead of hiring an experienced demolition contractor, Trump chose Kaszycki & Sons Contractors, a window washing business owned by a Polish emigre. Upward of two hundred men began demolishing the building in midwinter 1980. The men worked without hard hats. They lacked facemasks, even though asbestos–known to cause incurable cancers–swirled all around them. They didn’t have goggles to protect their eyes from the bits of concrete and steel that sometimes flew through the air like bullets. The men didn’t have power tools either, they brought down the twelve-story building with sledgehammers.
Trump kept an eye on the project, not just when visiting the site (where photographs show him smiling under a hard hat), but from an office he rented directly across Fifth Avenue, which offered him an unobstructed view.
The demolition workers were not American citizens, but “had recently arrived from Poland,” a federal court later determined. The court also found that “they were undocumented and worked ‘off the books.’ No payroll records were kept, no Social Security or other taxes were withheld and they were not paid in accordance with wage laws. They were told they would be paid $4.00 or in some cases $5.00 an hour for working 12-hour shifts seven days a week. In fact, they were paid irregularly and incompletely.”
Many members of the demolition crew, which became known as the Polish Brigade, lived at the work site, sleeping through the bitter cold on bare concrete floors. The crew numbered about thirty or forty in the daytime, but swelled to as many as two hundred at night, when few people would be around the tony business district to observe the demolition work.
Fed up that their paychecks kept bouncing, some of the workers corralled Thomas Macari, Trump’s personal representative. They showed him to the edge of one of the higher floors and asked if he would like them to hang him over the side. The workers, likely hungry, demanded their pay. Otherwise, no work.
When Macari told his boss what had happened, Trump placed a panicked telephone call to Daniel Sullivan–a labor fixer, FBI informant, suspect in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, and Trump’s personal negotiator for the Grand Hyatt contract with the hotel workers’ union.
“Donald told me he was having some difficulties,” Sullivan later testified, “and he admitted to me that–seeking my advice–he had some illegal Polish employees on the job. I reacted by saying to Donald that ‘I think you are nuts.’ I told him to fire them promptly if he had any brains.”
As Sullivan later told me, along with reporter Wayne Barrett and others, hiring Polish workers who were in the country illegally and then having them work without standard safety equipment was not just foolish, it was reckless. For all his dealings with Trump, Sullivan was repeatedly astonished by the businessman’s lack of prudence. He said that whenever Trump saw an opportunity to collect more money or to cut his costs by not paying people what they had earned, he did. “Common sense just never took hold” when Trump had money on his mind, Sullivan told me several times.
To Sullivan, only greed and an utter lack of regard for human life could allow Trump to let the Polish Brigade work without hard hats or the facemasks they needed to keep asbestos from entering their lungs. “Men were stripping electric wires with their bare hands,” Sullivan later testified.
There is no record of any federal, state, or city safety inspector filing a report during the demolition. In a 1990 Trenton restaurant interview, I asked Sullivan how a project of this size could have been erected in the heart of Manhattan without attracting government job safety inspectors. Sullivan just looked at me. When I widened my eyes to make clear that I wanted an explicit answer, he said, “You know why.” When I persisted, anticipating that Sullivan might specify bribes to inspectors, he said that unions and concrete suppliers were not the only areas where Trump’s lawyer, Roy Cohn, had influence.
Shortly after Trump called Sullivan, a new demolition crew arrived on the site. They were officially members of Housewreckers Local 95, but there were only fifteen or so unionists among them. Normally, employing non-union workers (in this case, Kaszycki & Sons) at a union work site would prompt an immediate shutdown. But, as federal court documents would later show, the Housewreckers Union was firmly under the control of the mobsters whose consigliere was Roy Cohn, Trump’s mentor and lawyer. So the union went along with a scheme to employ non-union workers, cheat them out of their pay, and shortchange the union health and pension funds.
Several simple but clever techniques in filling out records ensured that the union received no written notice of the non-union workers. Not incidentally, those workers were nonetheless required to pay union initiation fees and had union dues deducted from their meager pay, even though (as a federal judge later concluded) they were never actually in the union. Macari, Trump’s overseer, testified that he reviewed and approved these documents before paying Kaszycki.
Six Polish workers went to a lawyer named John Szabo for help getting paid. In early April, Macari saw to it that the window washing company Trump hired for the demolition job gave the six men a total of almost $5,000 in back pay. More workers then sought out Szabo. By July, as summer temperatures soared, the unpaid wages came to almost $104,000, even though the rate of pay was under five dollars an hour with no overtime, despite a grueling eighty-four-hour workweek of heavy manual labor.
One day, to keep the workers swinging their sledgehammers, Macari showed up with a wad of cash. Instead of paying the men directly, court papers show, Macari gave the money to the foreman. Anyone who wanted their money had to kick back fifty bucks to the foreman, testimony showed. After that, Macari testified later, he handed cash directly to the Polish Brigade members at least twice.
After the building was taken down, a dissident member of the Housewreckers Union, Harry Diduck, took the brave step of suing the corrupt union, Trump, and an arm of Metropolitan Life Insurance (Trump’s financial partner in Trump Tower) for the wages and benefits the Polish Brigade members should have received. Trump insisted he owed nothing and filed motion after motion that delayed the proceedings, which his lawyers characterized as baseless and unfair.
When the trial finally made it to federal court, Trump testified that he had no knowledge that any workers were underpaid, or that the Polish workers lacked hard hats and other safety equipment. Judge Stewart, in a lengthy opinion, found that Trump’s testimony lacked credibility. The judge said it would have been easy to identify the Polish workers–they were the only ones on the demolition site without hard hats.
Judge Stewart ruled that Trump had engaged in a conspiracy to cheat the workers of their pay. At the heart of this conspiracy was Trump’s violation of his duty of loyalty–also known as fiduciary duty–to the workers and to the union. This “breach involved fraud and the Trump defendants knowingly participated in this breach,” Judge Stewart held.
The judge awarded damages of $325,000 plus interest. Trump, who has consistently maintained he acted lawfully, appealed. He later settled. The agreement was sealed, so the amount Trump paid remains unknown. Diduck’s dedication to his fellow workers showed amazing persistence–the sealed settlement took effect more than eighteen years after the demolition began.
There was no litigation over the destruction of the bas-relief facades and the valuable entryway grillwork, which Trump had promised to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A spokesman for Trump who identified himself as John Baron told The New York Times that Trump had ordered their destruction. Baron said three appraisers told Trump that the Art Deco sculpture was “without artistic merit.” Museum curators, the building’s architect and a host of architectural experts all said that was nonsense.
Baron said removing the art would have cost Trump more than a half a million dollars in demolition delays, other unspecified expenses, and (without explanation) additional taxes. That last item may have struck those following the dispute as curious; by donating the art, Trump would have qualified for an income tax deduction. Of course, that deduction would have no value if Trump did not owe any income taxes in 1980, as public records show was the case in 1984, 1992, 1994, and likely every other year since 1978.
The entry grillwork that American Architect magazine had so highly praised a half-century earlier just vanished. Baron said the grillwork and the limestone panels, if preserved, could not have been sold for more than $9,000. Art experts dismissed that as nonsense as well. The Metropolitan Museum said its twentieth-century art curators never would have requested the donation of objects that lacked artistic merit or had no value in the market. The museum said one appraiser had estimated the value of the art in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Others called the destroyed artifacts priceless, comparing them to the renowned artwork on the Rockefeller Center buildings.
Otto J. Teegan, who designed the grillwork in 1929, was still alive in 1980. Baron had said the grillwork just disappeared. Teegan wasn’t buying that. Teegan and others told the newspaper they were appalled. Teegan said the grille “would have required cranes and trucks to be removed and could not merely be mislaid or easily stolen. It’s not a thing you could slip in your coat and walk away with” since the heavy metal grillwork measured fifteen by twenty-five feet.
Trump spoke up days later, saying safety concerns were his real worry, namely the fear of heavy limestone falling onto the sidewalk and street. “My biggest concern was the safety of the people on the street below,” he said. “If one of those stones had slipped, people could have been killed. To me, it would not have been worth that kind of risk.”
Noted art dealer Robert Miller, who watched the destruction of the limestone sculptures from his gallery across the street, described how huge pieces of stone did in fact crash to the Fifth Avenue sidewalk. “They were just jackhammered in half and pulled down in such a way that they just shattered. . . [I]t was tragic. They were very much in the Art Deco style–very beautiful and very gracious.”
Trump insisted that he was being cheap in destroying the art, rather than preserving it, to save what may have been about $32.,000. “I contribute that much every month to painters and artists–that’s nothing,” Trump said. Years later, as a presidential candidate, Trump would have little evidence to support his claim to being an “ardent philanthropist,” as we shall see.
The destruction of the Bonwit Teller artwork, together with the Polish Brigade case, highlighted some of Trump’s unscrupulous business practices, but it also brought to light another intriguing aspect of Trump’s conduct, one that raises serious questions about the lack of judgment that troubled Daniel Sullivan. For years, Trump used fake identities to mislead journalists–and at least once to menace someone who was just doing their duty. This will be examined after we take a look at some other aspects of Trump, including how emotions influence how much Trump says he is worth.”
(DONALD TRUMP, WHEN HE HIRES WORKERS, HE GETS THE CHEAPEST ONES HE CAN HIRE THAT ARE UNDER $7.25 AN HOUR, MEANING HE DOESN’T LIKE UNIONS. THE MAIN PROBLEM IS THAT HE IS NOWHERE AS SMART AS HENRY FORD WAS WHEN HE BUILT THE MODEL A. MR FORD SAID “YOU HAVE TO PAY YOUR HELP ENOUGH WAGES SO THEY CAN BUY YOUR CAR.” AND THEN ON TOP OF THAT, THE POLISH WORKERS SUED DONALD BECAUSE HE WASN’T PAYING THEM AND IT TOOK A LONG TIME BUT THEY DID WIN. DONALD WAS INVOLVED IN A LOT OF LAWSUITS OVER THE YEARS AND HE DIDN’T WIN THEM ALL. ANOTHER BIG ONE HE LOST WAS WHEN HE DIVORCED HIS FIRST WIFE, IVANA. THAT TOOK A WHILE TOO, BUT WHEN HIS SECOND GIRLFRIEND, MARLA MAPLES, GOT PREGNANT, THAT KIND OF SPED THINGS ALONG AND HE HAD TO SETTLE. SO, HE CAN COMPLAIN ABOUT BILL CLINTON’S WOMEN TROUBLES BUT BILL HAD FAR FEWER THAN DONALD HAD AND BILL IS STILL MARRIED TO HILLARY, HIS FIRST WIFE.
LaVern Isely, Progressive, Overtaxed, Independent Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen Member and USAF Veteran