|The tycoon’s anti-immigration stance is being undermined by his use of illegal workers.|
US election - Trump’s Polish worker problem: High quality global journalism requires investment. The men were known in New York as “the Polish Brigade”. There were hundreds of them, illegal immigrants for the most part, who could be found on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue in 1980 working around the clock on 12-hour shifts for low pay, sometimes even less than the minimum wage. Many went without hard hats as they did the dirty and difficult job of demolishing an Art Deco landmark made of limestone.
The fruits of their labour are known around the world. The Polish workers cleared the way for the construction of Trump Tower — the glittering backdrop for the US version of The Apprentice television programme, and the setting last year when the star of the show, Donald Trump, said he would run for president and build a “great, great wall” along the Mexican border to keep out unauthorised migrants.
Now, Mr Trump is coming under pressure to explain what happened on that stretch of Fifth Avenue more than three decades ago. At Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate, Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, alleged that Mr Trump had paid a judgment of $1m for hiring illegal Polish workers at one of his projects. “You lied about the Polish workers,” Mr Rubio charged. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, 38 years ago,” Mr Trump replied, prompting Mr Rubio to respond: “You lied 38 years ago? I guess there’s a statute of limitations on lies.”
The facts of the matter can be found today in 19 boxes stored in a federal archive in Missouri that contain the records of a complex 16-year legal battle over the Polish Brigade. From Ronald Reagan’s first term as president to Bill Clinton’s second, Mr Trump and his partners in the tower project fought against a lawsuit demanding that they make contributions to a union pension fund to account for the illegal Polish workers.
A settlement in the dispute was finally reached in 1999 and sealed by a federal judge in New York, keeping the financial terms a secret. But the record available to the public contains a good measure of inconvenient truth for the leader of the Republican presidential pack. The candidate who made immigration a central issue in the 2016 race is being asked to explain why he used so many unauthorised migrants on the project that even today looms as a symbol of his personal brand. A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Making his mark - The tower project took shape when Mr Trump, now 69, was still a young man in a hurry, looking to make a splash in the wider world. His father Fred had amassed a fortune worth hundreds of millions of dollars by building middle-class housing in the “outer boroughs” of Brooklyn and Queens. Fred Trump’s office was on Avenue Z in Brooklyn; his family home was in the Jamaica Estates section of Queens. The bright lights and high property prices of the big city were far away — and the elder Trump, who died in 1999 aged 93, was content to keep a respectful distance.
His son Donald was a different story. He was drawn to Manhattan — and took advantage of his father’s contacts to make it there. One of his first breaks came in the late 1970s, when the administration of Abe Beame, the New York mayor and a long-time ally of Trump père, granted Trump fils a 40-year property tax abatement to renovate the rundown Commodore Hotel next to Grand Central Station. With Chicago’s Pritzker family, Donald Trump turned the property into the Grand Hyatt.
That success set the stage for Trump Tower. Like Holly Golightly, the heroine of the Truman Capote novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Mr Trump was drawn to the real estate around the renowned jewellery store — the “Tiffany location”, as he called it (he later named one of his daughters Tiffany). His chance came when he reached a deal to buy the Bonwit Teller department store next to Tiffany’s and persuaded the owner of the land, Equitable Assurance, to join him in building a Fifth Avenue skyscraper that would house the super-rich and stores selling their favourite brands.
To demolish the old Bonwit Teller building, Mr Trump and his partners turned to an unlikely contractor — William Kaszycki, a Polish immigrant from the small town of Herkimer, New York, more than 200 miles away from Manhattan. A window cleaner by trade — operating under the banner of Interstate Window Cleaning — he had done interior demolition work, but had never been entrusted with taking down an entire building until he was recruited for the Trump project, according to court documents.
Testimony in the case established that Mr Trump had observed Kaszycki’s Polish workers while they were doing demolition work inside a building he owned near Bonwit Teller. Mr Trump was said to have called the Poles “good hard workers”. After he was hired, Kaszycki testified in a deposition that he set up a new company called Kaszycki and Sons to do the Bonwit Teller job because “it didn’t sound good for a window cleaning company to do demolition work”.
“He was a wheeler-dealer, Bill Kaszycki was,” said his Herkimer-based attorney, George Aney, who is still practising law at the age of 80, and said that his client has died. “He was self-taught and earned his way.” The results of the demolition proved controversial from the start, as Mr Trump recounted in his bestseller, The Art of the Deal. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art had asked Mr Trump to save two bas-relief sculptures on the building’s exterior, and he said he would if he could. However, when Mr Trump learned the friezes were heavier than expected and extra scaffolding would be needed to remove them, he said he “ordered my guys to rip them down”. Howls of protest from art lovers followed, but Mr Trump emerged nonplussed, arguing that the publicity was good for business.
“My carrying charges on the construction loan for this project were enormous — not to mention the extra construction costs of delaying the job,” he wrote. “I just wasn’t prepared to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars to save a few Art Deco sculptures that I believed were worth considerably less, and perhaps not very much at all.”
To obtain workers for the project, Kaszycki signed an agreement with House Wreckers Union Local 95. However, “much of the demolition work” was done in the first half of 1980 by “some 200 Polish aliens — sometimes referred to as the ‘Polish Brigade’ — who were not union members”, according to court documents.
“Most, if not all, of Kaszycki’s Polish workers had recently arrived from Poland,” Charles Stewart, a federal judge in New York, wrote in his 1991 ruling in the case. “They were undocumented and worked ‘off the books’. No records were kept, no social security or other taxes were withheld.” He said the Polish workers “were obvious not only in numbers but appearance” because “most” lacked hard hats. Read more