As the legislative session enters its final days, serious concerns remain regarding legislation to redefine public works and expand prevailing wage mandates in New York’s construction industry. Recent closed-door negotiations over the bill have not addressed these concerns.
Numerous lawmakers have continued to raise issues about the harm this legislation could do to minority construction workers and MWBE contractors – and it is crucial that these concerns are not ignored in the remaining days of session.
The Construction Workforce Project (CWP) hopes lawmakers will live up to their commitments to protect communities of color and hold firm in articulating their ongoing concerns regarding any potential expansion of prevailing wage.
To that end, we would like to remind all lawmakers of why these issues have been raised and why they matter.
The vast majority of private construction work – nearly 80 percent – is now being done by workers in the open shop, or non-union, sector of the industry. 80 percent is just the minimum amount, and in many parts of the state an even larger share of private construction work is being done by open shop workers.
Meanwhile, in upstate New York and Long Island, unions now represent less than 70% of the construction workforce.
Industry surveys have shown that approximately 75 percent of open shop construction workers in New York City are locally based people of color. This is primarily due to the barriers that prevent many men and women of color from gaining access to full-time employment in the building trade unions.
Open shop construction workers already earn around $20 per hour on average for entry-level jobs, as well as competitive health care and 401(k) packages.
However, the legislation to expand prevailing wage would make many private construction projects impossible to build and eliminate jobs for open shop workers and the MWBE contractors who work on these projects. Additionally, the legislation would create a de facto union mandate that would exclude open shop workers on any projects that do move forward.
When construction projects shut down and jobs are lost, minority workers and MWBE contractors in the open shop will be the first ones to lose jobs and opportunities.
Cutting off these pathways to employment and workforce development will turn back the clock on progress and diversity in New York’s construction industry, making it harder for communities of color to get their fair share in statewide efforts to promote economic development.