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Prevailing Wage Bill Faces Opposition from Business Groups

In New York, big business uses media to push a false narrative on public works projects

Kris LaGrange's picture
Mar 29, 2019

Budget negotiations in New York are down to the wire and one of the bills that union members are still fighting for is a provision that would define public works projects in the state. The definition of public works is important because jobs that are funded with taxpayer money must pay a prevailing wage. However, the state has used semi-governmental groups called Industrial Development Agencies (IDA’s) to get around this.

By defining public works, unions want to make it clear that taxpayer money should go towards jobs that pay a prevailing, middle-class wage. Below is a letter of support written by Laborers Local 66 Business Manager Steve Flanagan.

The Newsday editorial board is recklessly misinformed in claiming that a prevailing wage mandate on state-funded projects could hurt the business community and local economy [“Don’t rush a new law on prevailing wage,” Editorial, March 15]. Deep-pocketed developers want you to believe Long Island development will grind to a halt if New York passes such legislation so they can increase profits by exploiting workers with poverty-level wages. Long Island isn’t cheap. Area-standard wages allow the middle class to not just survive, but thrive. When workers thrive, so does the economy. Mandating prevailing wages on subsidized projects would generate up to about $7 million annually in additional sales tax revenue, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington.

By mandating wage standards on publicly funded projects, 16 states lead New York in ensuring that taxpayers receive the greatest return on investment. Businesses still profit, but not at a cost to local economies. Opponents aren’t mom-and-pop businesses. They’re major companies that benefit from taxpayer-funded subsidies, often using out-of-state contractors to save money. There is tremendous support for a comprehensive definition of public work from lawmakers, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and four of our Long Island state senators who have co-sponsored the legislation. Prevailing wages don’t kill jobs, they create good ones.

Unfortunately, business groups have mounted opposition to paying a prevailing wage. Anti-worker lobbyists like EJ McMahon have used the editorial pages of New York’s newspapers to push lies about prevailing wage jobs. Pro-business papers like the Long Island Business News (LIBN) even tried to drum up opposition to the prevailing wage. They gave a lot of one-sided attention to the issue, never once asking for organized labors position. LIBN used to be a fair and balanced paper with a regular column about labor. However, critics have said that the recent publisher change has influenced their balanced reporting on issues such as this. LIBN even attempted to stir up anti-union sentiment when they put out a poll that asked the question "Should developers be required to pay workers union wages on private projects that receive IDA benefits?" and provided an answer that included, no, unions have too much power.

On Thursday, UCOMM Blog reported that hundreds of Building Trades members were in Albany pushing for the bill to be approved. While anti-worker publications like LIBN push a narrative that the prevailing wage is an unnecessary increase in cost for their billion-dollar real estate interests, the reality is that prevailing wage projects helped build New York’s Middle Class. Now a new generation of construction tradesmen simply want jobs that will provide them the ability to make a decent wage that can provide for their families. Developers like Stephen Ross, the owner of Related and the Miami Dolphins, sure are making enough off of their hundred’s of millions of dollar real estate deals, the men and women who build these projects should make a fair wage as well.

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