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Defining Public Works

Laborers union pushing to get public work opportunities for those who need it the most

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by Guest Post on
Mar 28, 2019

Shouting, "End corporate welfare, pass public works!" hundreds of union activists and day laborers flooded the halls of the Capitol today, urging legislators to act before it's too late on legislation that would grant raises to thousands of construction workers on publicly subsidized projects. Leafleting throughout the Capitol, pulling Senators off the floor, and distributing packets of information at legislators' offices, activists are asking the Legislature to move the prevailing wage policy as a part of ongoing budget negotiations.

"The clock is ticking," said Patrick Purcell, Executive Director of the GNY & NYS Laborers-Employers Cooperation & Education Trust. "How much longer will construction workers have to wait for wage justice? This isn't about union or non-union workers, it's about setting a strong wage standard that benefits all construction workers and levels the playing field for in-state, responsible contractors. Delaying this measure until after the budget will be akin to denying a raise to thousands of workers."

While opponents of the legislation are voicing drastic, all-or-nothing concerns, the sixteen states that have already passed similar legislation have seen continued economic development. A1261/S1947 will bring New York onto equal footing with neighboring states New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, for example, who each have the public works policy already codified in law.

"Today, day laborers and immigrant construction workers stand together with our brothers and sisters from organized labor, to show a force of unity and send a powerful message. In the face of mounting pressure on our communities, Governor Cuomo and our state Legislators have the opportunity to pass historic protections for construction workers and their families throughout New York State," said Manuel Castro, Executive Director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE). "By providing a fair definition of public works, New York will ensure safe working conditions and a living wage for construction workers, union and non-union alike, in state-supported projects across our diverse state. By enacting this change, New York will demonstrate that our core values of opportunity and justice for all are more important than quick profits and corporate greed. As a grassroots organization, working directly with some of the most abused workers in the construction industry, we stand united in this effort."

"The Legislature has a simple decision to make: do blue-collar workers deserve an honest day's pay for an honest day's work, or do developers deserve to grow their bottom-lines using our tax dollars?" asked Michael Hellstrom, Assistant Business Manager of the Mason Tenders District Council of Greater New York. "This is about ensuring our tax dollars are no longer used to line the pockets of out-of-state contractors who exploit workers and drive wages down. The clock is ticking and construction workers need to know what the Legislature's decision will be."

"Definition of public work is about empowering workers, of all skill levels, upstate and down," said John Hutchings, Executive Director of the New York State Laborers Political Action Committee. "Developers have been allowed to exploit New York's lax public work law to reap maximum taxpayer-funded subsidies for too long. We implore the Assembly and Senate to seize the opportunity we have now through the budget to pass this legislation and grant workers this long overdue raise."

"Public subsidies must come with public responsibility," said Joseph Azzopardi, Business Manager of New York State District Council 9 IUPAT, Painters and Allied Trades. "The public work legislation is a common-sense solution to ensure taxpayer-funded subsidies finally have a responsibility to the construction workers on the projects these dollars support. Now is our strongest moment to accomplish this policy for New York's construction workers, another day of delay will be an additional giveaway to real estate interests."

"As Chair of the NYS Senate Labor Committee, I am the proud sponsor of the Public Works Bill so we can begin to end the race to the bottom in the construction industry," said New York State Senator Jessica Ramos. "Those working on publicly financed projects must be paid a prevailing wage. We must include the Public Works Bill in this year's budget to ensure that the people who build our state can afford to call it home."

"The New York State Constitution makes clear that labor is not a commodity and the hardworking men and women on public works projects must be paid a prevailing wage.  Unfortunately, these requirements have been watered down through a bureaucratic process that allows contractors to get out of their obligation to pay our working families the wages they deserve," said New York State Assembly Member Harry Bronson. "Simply put, this bill would create a transparent method for determining which projects are considered public works, bringing our state policy in line with the spirit and intent of our constitution. I look forward to working with Senator Ramos and the men and women of New York's construction industries to pass this vital legislation in this year's state budget."

"We have a responsibility to ensure that projects that receive taxpayer money are providing good paying jobs," said New York State Senator Jim Gaughran. "A prevailing wage would ensure that workers are treated fairly and paid a living wage."

"As Chair of Cities Committee and a member of the Labor Committee, I stand with the Laborers and their Union siblings from across the Building Trades to affirm the importance of a clear definition of Public Work," said New York State Senator Robert Jackson. "It's ridiculous that our taxes are going to support public works projects given to employers who are not bound by any meaningful standards. Only developers who are prepared to treat their workers with dignity and pay a fair wage should be eligible for projects funded by taxpayer dollars. That's just common sense."

"All construction workers deserve a fair and decent wage," said New York State Senator Diane Savino. "There is no reason that New York should lag behind while other states see the economic benefits of policies like this. As we work to finalize the budget I will continue to advocate for this so that hard working New Yorkers are paid a fair wage for their work."

"We need a fair definition of public works so that everyone understands that people doing public works jobs will be paid a fair wage," said New York State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky.

"Everyone will benefit - the apprentice, the structure when completed will be safe and cost-effective, the local economy and the working men and women."

"Public work projects exist in large part to benefit local communities," said New York State Senator James Skoufis. "We have a responsibility to ensure these projects are employing good-paying jobs. A prevailing wage will boost the local economy and ensure construction workers are paid a respectable, living wage."

"As I have said time and again, we need a clear definition of public work in law and we need it now," said New York State Senator Rich Funke. "We are spending billions on economic development in our state and when taxpayer dollars are invested prevailing wage must be attached. The men and women of the building trades work hard every day, they pay their taxes, they contribute to our communities and they never ask government for a dime. In this case, they are simply asking that we deliver on previous promises to ensure that a fair wage is paid for a fair day's work. I am proud to stand with them and I urge the Governor and the leaders of both houses to include this in the final budget." 

"Paying workers on publicly supported construction projects a fair wage is good public policy and the best type of 'economic development,'" said New York State Assembly Member Thomas Abinanti.

"Prevailing wage standards are crucial to providing local jobs to our friends and neighbors and protecting the local economy," said New York State Assembly Member Karl Brabenec. "Many employees building public works are performing tasks that require a high degree of education and experience and they deserve to be compensated fairly for their expertise and diligence. Investing in public works is a long-standing tradition in New York State that has many far reaching benefits to our economy and broader society. I stand behind these employees in their efforts and offer my sincere support."

"It is imperative that we clarify the definition of 'public work' in state law so that developers working on projects paid for by New York taxpayers will stop using current loopholes to circumvent paying their employees prevailing wages and maintaining safe work sites," said New York State Assembly Member Michael DenDekker.

"Ensuring we have prevailing wage requirements is crucial to protecting good paying, middle-class jobs in many sectors of our economy, especially on Long Island," said New York State Assembly Member Mike LiPetri. "It is important that taxpayer money lifts up local families and enriches the community in which it is invested."

"As the budget is soon to be finalized, I am committed to fighting for this provision to ensure wage fairness for all New York construction workers," said New York State Assembly Member Walter Mosley. "This legislation achieves just that, and we should not wait any longer to make sure it becomes law."

"It is our responsibility to ensure workers are paid a fair wage on sites where taxpayer money is used," said New York State Assembly Member Sean Ryan. "A prevailing wage would give workers increased financial stability and make sure our tax dollars stay here in New York instead of going into the bank accounts of out of state contractors and developers. This would set a strong standard that will benefit blue collar workers and their families across New York State."

"It is of the utmost importance that hard-working construction workers throughout the State of New York are compensated fairly," said New York State Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon. "I am proud to stand with labor unions and construction workers to demand that New York clearly defines public works this year."

This post was written by The Mason Tenders District Council of Greater New York

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